From a three-star recruiting afterthought pulled at the last minute from Michigan State to second-round NFL draft pick, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s astounding development and rise has reached another level. He just had to wait a day longer than expected to do so. The former Notre Dame linebacker was picked by the Cleveland Browns with the No. 52 overall pick in the second round of the NFL draft on Friday.
Owusu-Koramoah becomes the third Irish linebacker in the last eight years to fall into the second round after spending much of the pre-draft process expecting a first-round pick. As a result, Bob Crable remains the only Notre Dame linebacker ever selected in the first round (1982, New York Jets, No. 23 overall). Back in 2013, Manti Te'o slipped to No. 38 after his personal life was upended following the Irish loss in the national championship game. In 2016, a gruesome injury in his final collegiate game sent Jaylon Smith from top-five pick, if not No. 1 overall, all the way down to No. 34. And now Owusu-Koramoah joins them, having long been expected to be a mid-first-round pick and instead spending Thursday night idling for unclear reasons.
First-rounder or second-rounder notwithstanding, Owusu-Koramoah remains a testament to development. The No. 40 outside linebacker in the class of 2017, per rivals.com, Owusu-Koramoah was chased by the Irish only after a staff overhaul brought Mike Elko and Clark Lea on board from Wake Forest. They had lost out to Virginia in pursuing Owusu-Koramoah at their previous stop, but he had decommitted from the Cavaliers and their hopes were revived with Notre Dame’s brand at their disposal.
Owusu-Koramoah committed to the Irish via a National Signing Day stunt phone call, an effort to add some hype to an underwhelming recruit that the new coaching staff clearly properly valued.
“What we thought we had with him immediately was somebody that was going to be a playmaker on defense,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said Thursday. “We saw a guy that closed on the ball, had really good instincts, just didn’t know when that would occur.”
The prototypical Rover in Elko’s and then Lea’s defenses, Owusu-Koramoah did not play as a freshman and then had his sophomore year cut short by a broken foot. Nothing would limit him in the following two seasons.
“Quite frankly, we adapted to him and did a really good job of adapting to his skill set, which we should when we get a player of that capability and ability, needs to show itself,” Kelly said. “I think we did a pretty good job of putting the defense together and not making it such that he couldn’t get on the field.”
The Browns may need to make similar adjustments, figuring out how to best deploy a linebacker in pass coverage, given Owusu-Koramoah was one of the country’s best slot defenders in 2021. As much as a linebacker, he also filled all of the Irish nickel back needs.
“Just my experience playing, I think you phrased it slot corner, that’s an interesting name,” Owusu-Koramoah said last month. “Just with me playing a lot of man coverage this year, that helped me out especially with my transition to the league as the NFL is becoming more of a pass-happy league. More teams are running 70 percent, 80 percent sub-third-down packages, and I think that’s just where my game peaks at, that third-down sub-, whether it is inside or outside, nickel, box, wherever it is. I think I have even seen a stat where somebody counted my snaps — I played 600-plus snaps out on the slot and about 450 in the box. That kind of duality is what NFL teams are looking for as the league progresses more into a pass league.
The unanimous All-American finished 2020 with 62 tackles, including 11 for loss, one interception and one memorable forced fumble then recovered and returned for a touchdown in the Nov. 7 double-overtime upset of No. 1 Clemson.
His entire collegiate career featured 142 tackles, with 24.5 for loss, in 27 games. Owusu-Koramoah won the 2020 Butkus Award as the country’s best linebacker.