The Fascinating Mystery Of Notre Dame Football Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s Future NFL Position

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s name will be called in the NFL Draft this week.

Perhaps in the top 20. Probably in the first round. Likely as the first Notre Dame player chosen this year.

All of that is, in many ways, a bit astonishing.

Four-plus years ago, Owusu-Koramoah committed to Notre Dame on National Signing Day as a three-star recruit amid a coaching staff reshuffling. He was one of a trio of three-stars who chose the Irish that day and six who gave their pledges in the final two weeks of the 2017 cycle.

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Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah could find himself as a top-20 pick in this week’s NFL Draft. (Associated Press)

Then he vanished behind the scenes for two years. First, an out-of-sight redshirt year in 2017. His 2018 season and brief moment as the No. 2 rover ended with a broken foot suffered in early September.

His future seemed murky.

Now?

Owusu-Koramoah is the reigning Butkus Award winner and a unanimous All-American expected to be one of the top defensive players chosen this year. In two seasons as Notre Dame’s starting rover, he totaled 142 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, seven pass breakups, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, an interception and a fumble return touchdown.

After those first two absent years with zero defensive snaps, he began 2019 spring practice on the first-team defense with a chance to start. His grip on the job only strengthened from there.

Three popular destinations in mock drafts for him are the Las Vegas Raiders at No. 17, the Washington Football Team at No. 19 and the Cleveland Browns at 26th overall. Presumably, whoever selects him will define his initial role soon after.

There is, though, an aura of curiosity around him that won’t lift until he sees the field. His positional home is very much up in the air. Is he a traditional outside linebacker who moves inside on passing downs? What about a safety? A hybrid in the same rover-type role he played in college? A big nickel back who’s on the field 75 percent of the time?

His rover position was quite literal in its description. From 2019-20, Owusu-Koramoah played 680 snaps in the slot, 433 in the box and 195 on the defensive line. He blitzed, played a traditional linebacker role, defended the flat in zone coverage and covered slot receivers one-on-one. He executed all of those duties with aplomb. But what does that mean in the NFL? He has sensed something of a theme.

“In terms of NFL teams, I’ve heard a lot of linebacker primary,” Owusu-Koramoah said in March. “For me, the closer to the ball I am, I’m happy. As a competitor, I want to find something that gives me an edge and advantage. The closer to the ball I am, I think that’s an advantage for me.”

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Wherever he’s picked, the highlights on the draft broadcast will surely start with his jaw-dropping viral hits. Such as his flattening of a Florida State ball carrier. Or his hit of Clemson’s Travis Etienne that dislodged the ball right to him and led to his 23-yard touchdown. The analysts will tout his smack-you-in-the-face athleticism and explosiveness. Two important traits, check and check.

But he stands out from other linebackers with his coverage ability. He has the speed to run with slots and tight ends. He earned Pro Football Focus’ second-highest slot coverage grade in 2020. He allowed no touchdown passes when targeted in his two seasons, per PFF. Opposing receivers averaged 8.6 yards per catch when they did haul in a pass against him.

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Proficiency there opens up all kinds of possibilities for usage. It allows a defense to keep him on the field on first and second down and shift him when it rolls out a third-down sub-package, eliminating the need to substitute. He can play in the box and then slide out to the slot or shadow a tight end.

“When you play a lot of man coverage this year, that helped me out in my transition to the NFL as it has become a more pass-happy league and more teams are running 70 or 80 percent sub-packages,” Owusu-Koramoah said. “That’s where my game peaks at, that third-down sub whether it’s inside, outside, nickel, box.

“That kind of duality is what the NFL teams are looking for as the league progresses into more of a pass league.”

He’s not the first of his kind, though. Smaller, faster linebackers by designation who play every down and frequently shift alignments are populating the NFL more and more these days. Owusu-Koramoah even has one he models himself after: Deion Jones of the Atlanta Falcons. At 6-1 and 222 pounds, he has a like-for-like frame to Owusu-Koramoah (6-1, 221). Both have plus speed for the position.

“He’s a smaller linebacker, but he’s speedy, he’s instinctive, he’s a player who really knows the game,” Owusu-Koramoah said. “When I watch him, even on third down, sometimes he’s lined up in the middle or lined up on the edge and dropping. He does a lot of different things within the Falcons defense.”

Owusu-Koramoah’s own ability to do different things, of course, has engrossed the imaginations of NFL executives, head coaches and defensive coordinators. When listening to him describe the roles different teams have said they envision him in, one gets the impression the league’s collective imagination is boundless in what it foresees. He paraphrased the Los Angeles Chargers’ view of him as “that inside linebacker, third-down package guy.”

It all sounds like a murky future – but this time, in a good way.

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Published: 2021-04-27 13:00:00

Tags: #Fascinating #Mystery #Notre #Dame #Football #Linebacker #Jeremiah #OwusuKoramoahs #Future #NFL #Position

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