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Syracuse DB Ifeatu Melifonwu drafted by Detroit in third round of NFL Draft

Former Syracuse defensive back Ifeatu Melifonwu was selected 101st overall in the third round of the 2021 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions on Friday night. It is the second straight year two former Orange players have been drafted. Alton Robinson and Sterling Hofrichter were taken in the fifth and seventh rounds, respectively, in the 2020 draft.

Melifonwu is the second SU player drafted in 2021. Fellow DB Andre Cisco went 65th overall in the third round to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Trill Williams is projected to be selected sometime on the third day of the draft, scheduled for Saturday.

Over his three years at SU, Melifonwu played in 29 games, starting 19. He recorded 88 tackles and intercepted three passes during his career. During the 2020 season, teams typically avoided passing near him. The 6-foot-3 Massachusetts native was named a third team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection in 2020, too.

“Going into the season, I was thinking I’m just going to play like this is my last season,” Melifonwu said at Syracuse’s Pro Day in March. “I feel like I had a really good year, a really consistent year.”

Melifonwu’s draft stock rose after a strong Senior Bowl performance in late January, when he made three tackles and broke up two passes. At SU’s Pro Day, Melifonwu ran a 4.48 40-yard dash in addition to having a wingspan measurement of 78.5 inches. NFL Draft Bible’s Lorenz Leinweber said Melifonwu was the “third-best corner” in the draft class, citing his size, athleticism and strong tape.

“He can mirror receivers really well,” Sports Illustrated’s Vincent Calderone said. “He’s strong enough to jam them at the line of scrimmage … He’s a really dynamic cornerback.”

If Williams joins Melifonwu and Cisco on the second or third days of the draft, it would be the first time Syracuse has at least three players taken in a draft since 2013, and only the second time in the last 15 years. SU head coach Dino Babers noted in a press conference on Wednesday that having three defensive backs selected in the same draft will be a substantial recruiting tool for the program moving forward.

“It will be good to hear Syracuse’s name early and on those days,” Babers said.