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Scouting Combine Research Series: Safeties (Part 3)

Who scored the game-winning goal in a World Cup qualifier? Which towering prospect is from London? Who was the nation's top ballhawk? Those answers and more as we get to know the top safety prospects.

Here are the 26 safeties who have been invited to the Scouting Combine. Players are listed in alphabetical order. Heights and weights come from CBSSports.com/NFLDraftScout.com. All players are seniors unless noted. For Part 1, CLICK HERE. For Part 2, CLICK HERE.

Shalom Luani, Washington State (6-0, 198): The junior-college transfer posted a pair of all-Pac-12 seasons. As a junior, he was an honorable mention with 90 tackles, four interceptions, six more passes broken up and two forced fumbles. It was more of the same as a senior, when he was a first-teamer with 68 tackles, 8.5 tackles for losses, four interceptions, six pass breakups and once forced fumble.

Luani was born in Pago Pago, American Samoa, and is one of five children. Before there was football, he was a standout in soccer. He scored during American Samoa’s first FIFA-sanctioned win — the game-winner in a World Cup qualifier against Tonga in November 2011. He was 17. He scored again in another victory, an incredible feat considering the country had a 30-match losing streak.

He learned to play football at Faga’itua High School in Masausi, American Samoa, and ultimately chose football over soccer. “It was a big decision for me and I love it. … I really like being physical and making contact.”

Luani gambled on himself. He came to the U.S. to play in the 2012 International Federation of American Football World U-19 Championship in Austin, Texas. Rather than go home with the team, he stayed in the United States in hopes of finding someplace to play collegiately. One bad choice, however, almost ruined his dream.

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Marcus Maye, Florida (5-11, 216): Coming off first-team All-America honors as a junior, huge things were expected out of Maye in 2016. However, he sustained a broken arm in a November game against South Carolina. In nine games, he had 50 tackles, one interception and six breakups. Those numbers pale to his junior-year production of 82 tackles, two interceptions, five forced fumbles and six breakups, when he impressed the coaches by playing safety and linebacker. He considered entering the NFL at that point but came back for “one more go round.”

Maye had one interception, two forced fumbles and five breakups while starting most of his sophomore year. As a freshman, he was benched — making his solid play the rest of his career even more noteworthy.

Obi Melifonwu, Connecticut (6-4, 219): Melifonwu was a four-year starter who finished his career with a bang by posting 128 tackles and four interceptions. That includes a 24-tackle game against Tulane. For a 48-game career, Melifonwu piled up 351 tackles, 11 tackles for losses, two forced fumbles and eight interceptions.

Melifonwu’s parents are from Nigeria and Henry William Obiajulu Melifonwu was born in London. When he was 3, the family moved to the United States. “I wanted to play at the age of 8. My mom thought the game was too dangerous. The next year, I brought her two sheets of signup paper. She ended up throwing away the first one and I pulled out the second one and she couldn't help but sign it. They've enjoyed the game of football ever since I was 9 years old. Being from overseas, they didn't really understand the game, but watching the game, especially my mom, she's come to love the game and she's learning the terminology. It's fun to see.”

Before the season, his head coach asserted that Melifonwu was the best safety in college football. “When I first came in here, I really had no football knowledge, just a little bit," said Melifonwu, a 1,400-yard rusher as a high school senior in Massachusetts. “Through the years you gain football IQ from the coaches, the players, studying film. My football IQ continues to grow with a great head coach.”

Montae Nicholson, Michigan State (6-1, 219): Junior. Nicholson started as a sophomore and junior with similar production in both seasons — 83 tackles, 2.5 tackles for losses, one forced fumble, three interceptions and two pass breakups in 2015; 86 tackles, two tackles for losses, one interception and two pass breakups in 2016. He was an honorable mention on the all-Big Ten team as a junior, and finished his career with 200 tackles and four interceptions.

With size and athleticism — he placed sixth in the long jump at the Big Ten indoor meet in 2015 — he was deemed a future All-American.

The hurdling prowess comes from his mom, a member of the Robert Morris Athletics Hall of Fame. She served as his coach.

Tedric Thompson, Colorado (6-0, 211): Thompson tied for third in the nation with seven interceptions and tied for first with 23 passes defensed. He added 63 tackles, including three for losses. All that got him was second-team all-Pac-12. Thompson picked off three passes as both a sophomore and junior. For his career, he had 13 picks and 246 tackles.

Thompson feared his career might be over after suffering a season-ending concussion in 2014. “After that hit, I didn't know if I'd play again. I'm just glad I'm able to play again.”

An older brother, Cedric, played safety for Minnesota and was drafted in the fifth round by Miami in 2015. His father recalled taking the boys to Jesse Owens Park in Los Angeles. The kids thought they were going swimming; instead, they were being signed up for football “They thought we were going swimming,” Cedric Sr. said. “We brought towels and everything just to throw them off. They jumped out, and I said, ‘Let’s go over here. We’re signing up for football.’ As soon as they started playing football, they came together. They stopped arguing. They stopped fighting. I think about that all the time.”

Damarius Travis, Minnesota (6-0, 211): Dealing with the bitter cold of Minneapolis is hard for anyone, let alone someone from Pensacola, Fla. But that was nothing compared to dealing with what happened in 2015. In the opening game of that season, with the NFL on Travis’ radar, he suffered a season-ending hamstring injury. “I talk to my dad (Gregory) a lot of times about everything,” said Travis, who was part of Pensacola (Fla.) High School’s 2009 state championship team that included Green Bay Packers defensive back Damarious Randall. “(His father) tells me something good all the time. The main thing I have been doing is staying mentally tough about it and staying positive. Because I can’t really look at it in a negative way, because it is going to bring my energy down and my vibe down. I try not to look at it in a bad way.”

With a medical redshirt, Travis was an impact player for the Gophers in 2016. Along with a team-high 83 tackles, he added two interceptions, four pass breakups and five tackles for losses. Travis had eight tackles as a freshman in 2012, 28 tackles as a sophomore in 2013 and 61 tackles as a junior. Over four seasons, he had four interceptions, 13 breakups and one forced fumble.

Mike Tyson, Cincinnati (6-1, 198): Tyson’s senior season was a knockout, as his five interceptions in 10 games gave him the fifth-best interception rate in the nation (0.5 per game). He had career-high numbers practically across the board with 46 tackles, 4.5 tackles for losses and five breakups. After not recording any interceptions as a sophomore or junior, he had three in an early-season game against Purdue.

Yes, his name is — well, it’s not a punch line, but it is a story line. “People will be like, ‘Well, you can't fight like Mike Tyson.’ Or they say, ‘You're going to bite my ear off.’ They say stuff like that, just joking around.” Mike Tyson is a family name; it has nothing to do with Iron Mike.

Marcus Williams, Utah (6-0, 195): Junior. Williams started 30 games in three seasons. As a sophomore, he was first-team all-conference with five interceptions, five pass breakups and 66 tackles. As a junior, he was second-team all-conference with five interceptions, two forced fumbles, three breakups and 64 tackles. His three-year totals were 188 tackles, 11 interceptions and four forced fumbles.

While out recruiting, a Utah coach became sold on Williams after he watched him dunk over three defenders. "We recruited him to do exactly what he's doing now," Sharrieff Shah said. "It's interesting that he's somebody we don't talk about, but his presence — though it may not be recognized at times — is always felt by us in the secondary. What he does is unbelievable. As a defense, we're only as good as our free safety."

Xavier Woods, Louisiana Tech (5-11, 203): Woods led Conference USA and tied for 13th in the nation with five interceptions. A weapon in more than coverage, he ranked second on the team with 89 tackles and added 6.5 tackles for losses, six pass breakups, three sacks and one forced fumble. He tied for fourth among active FBS players with 14 career interceptions. He garnered first-team all-Conference USA in each of his final three seasons. As a junior, had 7.5 TFLs, three interceptions and two forced fumbles; as a sophomore, he had six interceptions and three forced fumbles.

Louisiana Tech defensive coordinator Blake Baker once told Woods, “You got a problem, man.” The problem? He watched too much film. “Last year, I didn’t even have an office because every time I would go in there he was sitting at my desk watching film,” Baker said. “He watches film as much as a coach, and that’s not coach-talk. I’ve never been around a player like him.”


Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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