Less than two weeks separate this weekend from the start of the 2021 NFL Draft on April 29. It will be just the second draft of the Joe Douglas era, as New York’s general manager will put the finishing touches on his big board in the coming days.
Armed with nine total picks, he’ll have the ability to make a major imprint on his roster.
That figures to start very quickly, as New York’s No. 2 overall selection will undoubtedly be used to draft the future franchise quarterback. The Jets will still be very active beyond that on night one, however, with the No. 23 pick in their possession.
That’s where the mystery starts. While most pundits project Gang Green to add a cornerback, an offensive lineman or even a skill position player with that selection, there’s one unique prospect that might just be too good to pass up.
That guy is Notre Dame linebacker, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.
The likelihood of Owusu-Koramoah making it to pick 23 isn’t high. Last year’s Butkus Award winner is often mocked just a few picks ahead of New York. If he slips through the cracks, though, it would be tough for Douglas and Robert Saleh to look away.
Take a quick glance at Owusu-Koramoah’s numbers and it’s easy to see why he’d be a strong addition to any NFL defense.
The combination of 142 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, five forced fumbles, four recoveries and an interception in two seasons with the Fighting Irish absolutely jumps off the page.
Dive deeper, and his impact was even greater than the stat sheet suggests.
At a light 6-foot-1 and 221 pounds, Owusu-Koramoah played what defensive coordinators like to call the “rover” position. A rover is a hybrid between a linebacker and a defensive back that is able to rove around the field and take on any assignment on any given play, whether that’s covering a wide receiver deep down the field out of the slot, or shooting the gap inside to break up a running play in the backfield like a traditional linebacker.
Notre Dame’s defense has used its linebackers in this role over the course of the past few years with some success, but Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s emergence allowed then-defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s unit to reach its true potential. One of the reasons Owusu-Koramoah was able to anchor this defense so successfully is his ability to essentially roll two players into one.
His linebacker skills are top-notch. He understands gaps in the run game, he takes precise routes to the football, he rarely misses tackles and he’s an all-around playmaker who can force turnovers.
Alabama and Clemson understood that, and did their best to avoid him at all costs. At times, it worked. At others, it went like this:
The Fighting Irish also felt comfortable matching up Owusu-Koramoah with a slot receiver in one-on-one coverage without any consequences because of his range, agility and ball skills.
Notre Dame played three linebackers against 3-or-4 wide receiver sets 45% of the time in 2020. For reference, only the Steelers did that more than 3% of the time in the NFL last year. That’s because Notre Dame often thought it was better to use Owusu-Koramoah in coverage than to sub in an extra corner for one of the other linebackers.
That’s how adept he is at the second level of the defense.
His 4.15 three-cone drill at his Pro Day—which would have been the fastest of all linebackers at last year’s combine—showed how quickly he can change direction to shadow a route in coverage. “JOK” knows linebackers who can cover are becoming increasingly important in today’s pass-happy NFL, and that his skillset that will allow him to thrive.
“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,” the redshirt junior said before his Pro Day. “I believe I've seen a stat where somebody counted my snaps. I played 600-plus snaps out in the slot and about 450-plus snaps in the box. That kind of duality is what I feel NFL teams are looking for as the league progresses into more of a pass league."
Owusu-Koramoah is right, especially when it comes to NFL defenses like Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich’s. Saleh’s defense in San Francisco relied on pressure with the front four and linebackers who could drop into coverage comfortably. During his stint as linebackers coach in Atlanta, Jeff Ulbrich helped develop Deion Jones (6-foot-1, 227 pounds) into one of the game’s premier speed linebackers. He also worked with Keanu Neal (6-foot-1, 216 pounds), a linebacker-safety hybrid himself who the Jets were reportedly very interested in earlier this offseason. They didn’t land him, but now they’ll have their chance to draft what could be the best version of him.
There might be other holes to fill on this roster, but linebacker is still an important one. The Jets don’t look ready to commit to Blake Cashman as a starter, especially with the injury-plagued start to his career. C.J. Mosley hasn’t played in nearly two years. Why not fill that third linebacker spot and address deficiencies in coverage all with one player?
It’s been a decade since this team has had a truly great linebacking corps. David Harris and Bart Scott were key factors in the Jets’ two AFC Championship runs, but the NFL is moving towards a different breed of linebacker.
If New York is going to get back there, a guy like Jeremiah Owusu-Kormoah could be its anchor.
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