Modern NFL defenses are faced with a constant problem: How do they match traditional personnel up against offenses which are adopting unconventional concepts from the college game?
The answer is to look to see how college defenses are coping with those same concepts and adapt accordingly. Part of it is with schematic adjustments, such as making greater use of Bear or TITE fronts. But the other aspect is in finding new ways to use players who don’t fit the conventional archetypes. That can be a bit harder for coaches who grew up in a previous era of football, as they learned to think of these players as positionless “tweeners” and often dismiss them out of hand.
But over the last decade (or so) we’ve seen a quiet revolution in NFL defenses, as more and more defensive coordinators are willing to make roles for unconventional players. That will be the challenge facing Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah as he moves to the NFL. Even a few years ago, the 6-foot-1, 220 pound linebacker would have been branded a strong safety and likely fallen in the draft as teams might not know what to do with him in their scheme.
In recent years, however, we’ve seen more and more players like Owusu-Koramoah be drafted as highly as their athletic traits and collegiate tape suggest they should be drafted. But even so, just how much will his draft stock depend on the eye of the beholder, and teams’ willingness to coach to his rare skillset?
Prospect: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
Games Watched: vs. Duke (2020), vs. North Carolina (2020), vs. Clemson (2020 - Regular Season), vs. Alabama (2021)
Games Played: 25
Tackles For a loss: 24.5
Forced Fumbles: 5 (4 fumble recoveries)
Passes Defensed: 7
Games Played: 12
Tackles For a loss: 11.0
Forced Fumbles: 3 (2 recoveries)
Passes Defensed: 3
Best: Speed, agility, explosiveness, instincts, mental processing, versatility
Projection: Starting off-ball linebacker in a hybrid defense.
Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is an undersized, but extremely athletic and versatile linebacker prospect with good instincts and great mental processing. Owusu-Koramoah played the “rover” position in Notre Dame’s defense, lining up in a variety of positions across their defensive formation. He played most of his snaps as an off-ball linebacker, usually aligning as the WILL linebacker, though he would move to the strong side of the offensive formation to follow a tight end into the slot on obvious passing downs. He would also frequently align as a slot defender in nickel or dime packages, and even as an edge rusher.
Owusu-Koramoah shows very good instincts and mental processing, quickly reading and diagnosing the offense. He wastes little time making his decisions and accelerating toward the football, playing with truly rare speed, explosiveness, and agility for the linebacker position. Owusu-Koramoah is frequently able to beat offensive players to spots on the field, allowing him to disrupt plays before blocking is established or defend passes at the catch point. He has a background as a defensive back and was often used as a slot defender in Notre Dame’s defense. Owusu-Koramoah is easily able to cover running backs out of the back field, as well as tight ends or receivers out of the slot. He has cornerback-like feet and hips, easily able to flip and run with receivers down the field. Those movement skills show in space as well, as he is able to easily get depth on zone drops and transition from a backpedal to sprinting.
Owusu-Koramoah is very reliant on his explosiveness, speed, and agility as a pass rusher. He has a very good first step off the line of scrimmage and shows good lower body flexibility to bend and carry speed around the edge. His small stature offers a similarly small target for blockers, who often struggle to get a hand on him in pass protection. He is also able to use his explosiveness to force tight ends onto their heels before accelerating into the backfield.
He is a willing run defender who tracks the ball well and uses his athleticism to fill gaps and disrupt running plays, as well as make tackles in space.
While Owusu-Koramoah has good competitive toughness and is willing to take on much larger players, he is not able to take on direct blocks from offensive linemen or bigger tight ends. He is very reliant on his athleticism when playing close to the line of scrimmage and can be taken out of plays if he doesn’t immediately defeat or evade blockers with his explosiveness.
Owusu-Koramoah’s tackling is also inconsistent. While he is capable of wrapping up and delivering a form tackle, he is prone to delivering shoulder checks which often prove ineffective.
Overall Grade: 8.8 - This prospect has the traits to immediately start and contribute at the NFL level. His size might limit his scheme diversity for some teams.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah — also known as JOK — projects as a starting off-ball linebacker in a multiple defense.
But while his instincts, mental processing, athleticism, and competitive toughness are all exciting, the team which drafts him is going to need a plan and defined role for him going forward.
Teams with a traditional view of positional archetypes, or who run more conventional “Pro Style” defenses will likely view JOK as a “tweener” who lacks a true position at the NFL level. That being said, if a team is willing to use him as a versatile defensive weapon against modern up-tempo, spread, read-option, and RPO offenses, Owusu-Koramoah could be a dynamic piece.
We have seen several players with similar athletic traits as Owusu-Koramoah come out of college in recent years, and the archetype of an undersized but highly athletic second level player could be a necessary player in the coming years. NFL offenses are continuing to weaponize tempo, spacing, using hybrid receiving players and 3 or 4 receiver offenses, and draft athletic quarterbacks who are offensive threats in their own right. As they do so, players like Owusu-Koramoah who are able to play coverage, be run defenders, and pass rushers on all three downs, will be increasingly valuable. He will need to be put in positions where he doesn’t regularly have to directly deal with offensive linemen, but JOK can be used to frustrate many of the match-up problems modern offenses seek to create. He can cover a variety of players out of the backfield or slot, pursue the run, and rush the passer or even spy “dual threat” quarterbacks.
In the case of JOK specifically, his rare blend of (near) linebacker size and cornerback athleticism, as well as his sky-high football IQ, could make him a valuable piece for any defensive coordinator with the imagination to use him.