Why Seahawks Won't Select Syracuse CB Ifeatu Melifonwu in 2021 NFL Draft

Syracuse cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu has been a popular name for the Seahawks in mock drafts crafted by fans and pundits alike. While there's an obvious fit with the lengthy defensive back, there are quite a few reasons to believe Seattle won't prioritize him atop its draft board.
Author:
Publish date:

Attempting to predict the Seahawks' draft haul is often a fruitless exercise. General manager John Schneider and company are masters of subverting expectations and catching everyone outside of the organization off-guard. Whether it ends with copious trade-downs or the selection of a player far ahead of their consensus ranking - or both! - you'll be hard-pressed to go back and be able to pinpoint any analyst who hit Seattle's plan right on the head. 

That is, in part, why it's hard for me to buy into the idea of the Seahawks taking Syracuse cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu with their first selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. 

On paper, the fit seems perfect, no? He's 6-foot-2 with 321/4-inch arms—the prototypical build of a Seattle corner in the Pete Carroll era. And as Seahawk Maven's Corbin Smith pointed out yesterday, Melifonwu is just one of two corners in this draft class to exceed every single one of the organization's testing thresholds at the position.

Melifonwu has been the pick for the Seahawks at No. 56 - or any other selection in that range following a subsequent trade-down - in mock drafts from both local and national writers for some time now. And it makes all the sense in the world, because not only is he a fit from a physical standpoint, but he was also a producer in college with 20 pass deflections and three interceptions. What's not to love?

This isn't to say I don't think the Seahawks are interested in - or even enamored with - Melifonwu and his profile. I most certainly think they are, for all the reasons listed above and more. However, there are several reasons why this widely popular selection likely won't come to fruition.

1. Technique and the potentially overblown narrative of 'Seahawk-y' physiques

As we've gone over, the Seahawks have historically valued a particular type of cornerback to play on the outside for them and Melifonwu checks that box. But anyone who mocks him to Seattle purely based on that alone is ignoring a key shift in the organization's philosophy—one that I wrote about last week

Strictly playing long corners on the outside appears to be a thing of the past for Seattle. The signs are there; the Seahawks are set to start the 5-foot-9 D.J. Reed at right cornerback in 2021, and saw great results doing so towards the end of last season. Carroll has even admitted Reed's arrival altered the team's process of analyzing corners, making them more open-minded to the different builds and profiles they have to offer. 

While I don't expect them to start another corner who comes in under six feet opposite Reed, they may be more lenient with guys who fall below the mark in other categories. Therefore, no one should be mocking Melifonwu or someone like Pittsburgh's Jason Pinnock to the Seahawks because they simply fit their standards, nor should any prospect be eliminated from the equation just because they don't. 

There's more to it than that.

When it comes to Melifonwu specifically, there's an argument to be had he's not a great fit from a technique standpoint. He doesn't challenge opposing receivers at the line of scrimmage very often and fails to consistently utilize his above-average length in coverage. Technical trends, to me, are more important than physical trends when analyzing the Seahawks, and some of Melifonwu's game just doesn't fall in line with what they tend to covet from their cornerbacks, particularly on the left side.

2. Will Melifonwu even be there at - or past - No. 56?

With the likes of Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, and others, the Seahawks set a league-wide trend when it comes to valuing big, lengthy outside cornerbacks. This isn't something that's been exclusive to them for quite some time. For all the reasons Melifonwu fits Seattle from a physical standpoint, he does for a handful of other teams as well.

With the way he's built, held, and progressed his draft stock over the past few months, there's a solid chance the Syracuse corner goes within the top-50. In fact, several outlets have mocked him in the early second round and even into the back-end of the first. Therefore, it may be unrealistic to expect him to land within striking distance for the Seahawks. They certainly won't be trading up for him given their lack of draft capital. 

3. Cornerback is a high priority, but it may not be their top priority

The Seahawks have a league-worst three selections in next week's event and quite a few positions they need to address for 2021 and beyond. 

They have a serious need for receiving depth behind DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett and could get in on one of the deepest receiver classes to date. If the right center falls to them, that may be too hard to pass up on considering the talent cliff that follows the first few prospects at the position. K.J. Wright has yet to re-sign or move on elsewhere, so they could target a strong-side linebacker. They could also look to the future and consider one of the few left tackles expected to land in that range to prepare for Duane Brown's potential retirement following the 2021 season.

It's quite the predicament to be in when picks are so limited and every one of them has to count. 

There's also the fallback plan of free agency, where there are still quite a few intriguing veteran corners remaining, namely Richard Sherman. The Seahawks don't have that same kind of luxury when it comes to receiver or center if they fail to address either position in the draft. The free agent markets at both of those positions are almost entirely dried up at this point, potentially making the draft their last-ditch effort to solidify those spots in time for the fall.

They're also not completely devoid of talent at cornerback, having signed Ahkello Witherspoon with Reed, Tre Flowers, Ugo Amadi, Damarious Randall, and others in tow. While I wouldn't expect that to be the exact corps they put forth in Week 1, I'm of the belief they could be in a worse spot at the position than they're in right now and don't see it as this massively pressing need—at least, not in the light where they absolutely have to invest in a corner with a high draft pick. 

Cornerback may very well be the second deepest position group in this draft. The Seahawks don't have to bend over backwards to find their guy early on in fear of losing out on this talented class. They'll have options at their second scheduled pick, No. 129, and will likely acquire more selections over the course of the draft. 

Ultimately, I believe they'll walk away from the draft with at least one new corner in hand. However, I have my doubts it'll be Melifonwu or anyone else in the second round, even if the Seahawks have the opportunity.