Just weeks away from the draft, Dallas looks to capitalize on its selections once again. With the 28th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, who will the Cowboys select?
In last Wednesday’s ESPN Draft media conference call with Mel Kiper, two prospects that could fill Dallas’s need at safety stuck out as first round material: Obi Melifonwu and Jabrill Peppers.
Dallas Cowboy representatives met with the UConn safety in March after his impressive performances at the NFL Combine, the Senior Bowl, and Connecticut’s Pro Day. His name began to trend up the draft boards as he recorded a 44-inch vertical jump and 11 feet, 9 inch broad jump at the combine, better than any other athlete present.
The Huskies football program did not prove to be a grand stage for Melifonwu, but he was able to finish his season with a team-high 118 tackles and 4 interceptions. The former collegiate cornerback has incredible athleticism to fill the secondary, which recently lost cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr as well as safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox.
Scouts have noticed many strengths in Melifonwu including his sharp focus when the ball is in the air and his impressive hand-eye coordination that leads to multiple interceptions. ESPN scouting reports list him as a “former cornerback who has the athleticism to cover matchup tight ends and some big slots” and a “downhill tackling machine.” Errors were a concern at the start of his college career, but he showed improvement with drastically reduced penalty totals over his last two years. Others are concerned with his reaction time to play action, but that may be an area to grow in under professional staff.
Kiper gave Melifonwu a promising review: “Enormously talented. Missed a few tackles here and there. He still needs a little bit of work to round off his game, but he’s supremely talented. I have him going to the San Francisco 49ers early in round two.”
If Melifonwu is still available come the Cowboys second round pick, there should be significantly less hesitation.
Jabrill Peppers has long been the talk of potential draft picks in 2017, particularly for Dallas. Peppers played linebacker for the Michigan wolverines and racked up 117 tackles, four sacks, 10 pass breakups, a forced fumble and an interception over his last two seasons of college. The question for the Cowboys is whether or not he could fill a safety position effectively.
Scouts have noticed Peppers’ football intelligence and were especially impressed with his versatility that allows him to play multiple positions. Anyone that has watched his last seasons can attest to his explosiveness, acceleration, and raw speed. Key aspects of his game include his ability to match running backs and tight ends in coverage as well as his imposing angles on the ball. He has been described by NFL scouts as “able to fill in as a safety but not yet strong enough to stand there and take on the block.”
If the Cowboys did take the the risk with Peppers, it is very possible he would have room to shine under defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and alongside speedy safety Byron Jones. There are many questions to consider regarding his fit on the Dallas team, but perhaps the most important one is: Will Peppers even be left at the 28th pick?
Kiper’s analysis definitely shows some concern about Peppers’ position but also discusses how the risk factor might prove to be worth it for the Cowboys: “As far as Peppers, he’s a wild card. He hasn’t defined that safety position yet, but he’s going to be a great return man right away. I think he’d be a splash pick for the Dallas Cowboys, who could use a safety and an impact player like what he could be down the road. Maybe not right away at safety, but once he learns and settles in. He is a super explosive athlete, so I believe he is a first round pick, but maybe more the latter half of round one, and certainly the end of round one, so it’s conceivable he could still be there for Dallas.”
(Photo: Marianne O’Leary | Wikimedia Commons)