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O'HARA: Melifonwu working to maximize his size advantage

The Detroit Lions have been expanding the physical dimensions of their cornerbacks in recent drafts, and Ifeatu Melifonwu has boosted it up another notch.

When all things are equal, size is an asset. At just under 6-3, Melifonwu is the tallest cornerback on the Lions' roster.

In recent drafts, the Lions took Amani Oruwariye (6-2) in 2019 and Jeff Okudah (6-1) in 2020.

It was more than his height that prompted the Lions to draft Melifonwu in the third round and 101st overall. How he performed at Syracuse and the potential for him to use his size effectively in the Lions' secondary are what landed him in Detroit.

After a redshirt 2017 season, Melifonwu played 29 games at Syracuse. He had three interceptions and 25 passes defended, with 10 of them coming in each of the last two seasons.

Melifonwu feels like his size and length gave him an advantage in press coverage.

Working with the coaching staff at the Lions' three-day rookie minicamp gave him hands-on instruction on how to improve his techniques to maximize his size advantage.

"I feel like that's a huge part of it," he said at the Lions' rookie minicamp. "I have an advantage with my size and length. I'm learning how to use my length the right way and not lunge.

"I think that definitely will be a huge advantage for me going forward."

A lot more goes into playing cornerback in the NFL than lining up across from a wide receiver and following him wherever he goes.

Melifonwu began learning techniques in minicamp on footwork and hand placement that are different from what he was accustomed to using at Syracuse.

"It's a little bit different," Melifonwu said. "Here, when it comes to press coverage, I'm getting adjusted to it. It's not that much different. You've really got to play to your leverage.

"I'm just learning from A.P. (Aubrey Pleasant) and coach (Brian) Duker, and get it right."

Pleasant and Duker are assistant coaches.

There were good reviews on Melifonwu before and after the draft.

In a pre-draft position analysis in The Athletic, one scout said: "Great body control for a guy that big. When he goes up and presses, it's easy for him. Turns and runs smooth. Has the size and speed to smother guys.

ESPN analyst and former NFL defensive back and personnel executive Louis Riddick predicted potential stardom for Melifonwu.

"He might be the best press cornerback in the draft," Riddick raved. "He's got all the ability in the world. There's no reason this young man shouldn't be a superstar."

Melifonwu appreciated Riddick's analysis.

"It meant a lot, honestly," Melifonwu said. "Just to hear someone say that about me -- someone that high up like that, an analyst like that.

"I know what I can be. The coaches here know what I can be.

"That's why they drafted me."

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