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Cleveland Browns' Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah Should Be NFL's DROY Favorite

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystMay 8, 2021

Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (6) plays against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Pittsburgh, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Few NFL draft selections draw universal praise. The Cleveland Browns' decision to trade up to the 52nd overall pick and select Notre Dame's Jeremiah Owusu-Kormoah did. 

Outstanding talent coupled with the perception of awesome value created nothing but positivity around the selection. More importantly, the reigning Butkus Award winner can play. He's now entering a situation wherein he can be a featured performer for a rebuilt and now loaded defense on one of the league's most talented rosters. 

Owusu-Koramoah is perfectly positioned to take home some hardware as the 2021 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year due to his natural capabilities, how he fits in today's game and the way Cleveland is currently tending. 

The reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year had been earmarked a first-round talent throughout the evaluation process. The Bleacher Report Scouting Department graded Owusu-Koramoah as the incoming class' 14th overall prospect, its best linebacker and the second-best defensive prospect.

Three significant hang-ups seemed to materialize, which caused his draft weekend tumble.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported "a heart issue that came up late in the process and was a concern for most teams," though doctors cleared Owusu-Koramoah. The 21-year-old cleared the air on The Jim Rome Show:

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"You get a lot of news within the draft and the process you're going through. There was something that came up in terms of what guys were saying, but in terms of me, in terms of the personal aspect, there were no real heart issues at all. There was nothing that was too ticked off and we went back to Notre Dame and looked at the medical records and everything. I never really had any heart issues or anything going on there. You know, you hear a lot of things, but you've got to get it from the source."

Browns general manager Andrew Berry confirmed Owusu-Koramoah's standing during an interview on 92.3 The Fan Cleveland.

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

"We just thought he was one of the more talented prospects in this year's class," Berry said. "He's completely healthy. There's really nothing in his background that would suggest he can't have a nice, long career."

Second, Owusu-Koramoah isn't a typical linebacker and shouldn't be viewed as such. He's a chess piece capable of playing multiple roles. Usually, versatility is viewed as a positive. In this particular case, teams were "gunshy" about investing in Owusu-Koramoah with a first-round pick after Isaiah Simmons' struggles during his rookie season, according to Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer.

What some see as a potential disadvantage can be turned into an advantage.

Yes, Owusu-Koramoah is built more like a safety than a traditional linebacker. He weighed 221 pounds at Notre Dame's pro day, but the Fighting Irish's official site listed him at 215 pounds. His weight could have had something to do with the defender's decision not to run at the event, which is yet another possible hangup for some franchises.

A lack of bulk and no official 40 times shouldn't overlook the quality play Owusu-Koramoah posted on a weekly basis.

Statistically, the unanimous All-American led Notre Dame with 11 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. The versatile defender also finished second with 62 total tackles and defended four passes. On paper, those numbers are solid but nothing special.

Owusu-Koramoah should be viewed as a defensive weapon capable of creating numerous pre- and post-snap looks to confuse opposing quarterbacks.

Today's NFL is a mismatch league. Offensive coordinators are looking for defenders their unit can exploit, particularly in the passing game. For the Browns, the team fielded the league's worst linebacker a season ago. Moreover, the team struggled at the point of attack and allowed more touchdown passes that traveled 10 or more yards downfield than any other squad.

As such, Berry went to work this offseason.

The team signed safety John Johnson III, nickel corner Troy Hill, middle linebacker Anthony Walker Jr., defensive tackle Malik Jackson and defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Takkarist McKinley in free agency. Cleveland also chose Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome II with this year's 26th overall pick. Essentially, the Browns didn't have a single glaring need entering Day 2 of the NFL draft. Berry and Co. saw an opportunity to acquire a defensive playmaker in the second frame.

Owusu-Koramoah brings something entirely different to the table. Over the last two seasons, the "linebacker" played 680 snaps over the slot, 433 in more of a traditional role and 195 near the line of scrimmage, per Pro Football Focus.

Robert Franklin/Associated Press

Amazingly, the second-round selection graded higher than all but one defensive back in slot coverage grade last season. He can match up against tight ends one-on-one and not be completely exposed by receivers working the inside of the field. Owusu-Koramoah is comfortable working in space and shows the ability to turn his hips, run, cover and even identify the football. The first-team All-ACC performer plays with a level of aggressiveness and physicality that belies his size.

"I do think Jeremiah is a little unique in the manner in which he produces," Berry told reporters. "He's not going to be everybody's flavor or fit. ... For us, in [defensive coordinator Joe Woods'] scheme, everything he does well marries with what we want our linebackers to do."

Woods' history is important in this case because he should know exactly how to maximize Owusu-Koramoah's capabilities. Obviously, the incoming rookie played at Notre Dame, where Brian Kelly serves as the Fighting Irish head coach. Woods' fourth job as an assistant coach came courtesy of Kelly at Grand Valley State. The two know each other and how they like to utilize certain players.

Usage is a big piece of this equation.

Simmons is but one comparison. Others like the Los Angeles Chargers' Derwin James, New York Giants' Jabrill Peppers (a former Brown) and Carolina Panthers' Jeremy Chinn bring similar skill sets and success on an NFL field. Their teams found a balance in how to properly deploy their talents.

"I was actually picturing myself in this scheme as I was watching [the Browns] play last year, sitting down with one of my coaches from Notre Dame," Owusu-Koramoah told reporters. "It has been a blessing to see everything come to fruition."

Woods likes to use an overhang defender, much like Notre Dame did. Owusu-Karomoah will run the alley—the space between the end man at the line of scrimmage and wide receiver—slice through traffic and flash to the football. His arrival will be accompanied with a pop, too.

Cleveland now has a "Will" linebacker, who can be a safety in big nickel packages or cover the slot in base defense or just fly to the football as a read-and-chase defender.

Not just the Browns viewed Owusu-Koramoah as a top-flight defensive prospect.

"We had him very high on our board," an anonymous NFL evaluator told Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot. "We had a first-round grade on him. This kid is a tremendous player, especially where they got him."

He added the Browns got "the most sudden linebacker in the draft. I don't think they have a linebacker like him, and they have some good linebackers. He's way faster, way twitchier, he's more explosive. This guy can cover any back, he can stay on the field on all downs."

Ron Schwane/Associated Press

Brown chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta even admitted Owusu-Koramoah was under consideration with the team's first selection. Instead, the front office went with the more pressing need at a premium position, only to see things work out in its favor.

True three-down linebackers are difficult to find, especially outside of the first round. Usually, sub-package defenders are necessary so they can adjust to the situation and not be exploited. Owusu-Koramoah is a cheat code. His traits to play in all phases of the game will allow Woods to offset offenses more than a typical defender.

Comparatively, Micah Parsons, who became the highest-selected defender for the Dallas Cowboys, doesn't thrive in coverage. The Carolina Panthers' Jaycee Horn and Denver Broncos' Patrick Surtain II are excellent cornerback prospects, but only two defensive backs won the award since 2000, albeit those two came in the last six years. Zaven Collins' fit in the Arizona Cardinals defense is somewhat in question with Simmons and Jordan Hicks already on the roster. The Indianapolis Colts' Kwity Paye could make a strong case if he develops into a consistent edge-rusher.

Considering the Browns now feature one of the NFL's best all-around rosters and they're entering the conversation as a dark horse Super Bowl pick, a perfect fit with the capabilities of making plays all over the field immediately gains a higher profile and notice around the league.

Owusu-Koramoah may have slipped in the draft, but he couldn't have landed in a better situation to become a household name by the end of the 2021 campaign.

                

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.

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