Every year, the game of football changes. It’s a punch-counterpunch between offense and defense to gain an advantage on the other. From the tite front rising to prominence as a counter evolution to spread and air-raid offenses, to defenses using a 3-safety look to counter the “big slot” tight end, this back and forth has brought about immense change to the game of football.
A trend that has become even more noticeable in recent memory has been the popularization of “hybrids” — players who have the requisite skill set to play multiple positions at any given point. From running backs who can catch as well as they run, to safeties who are just as effective rushing the passer as they are playing deep coverage against a tight end, the “hybrid” player has become increasingly coveted and valued by coaches for their versatility. Notre Dame LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is one such hybrid — a linebacker/safety mix that brings enticing versatility for any defensive coordinator wise enough to take advantage of it.
Analyzing Notre Dame LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
The roots of Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s versatility
One thing that has stayed the same is the need for speed on both sides of the ball. Both sides want to play faster without sacrificing talent or giving a mismatch. Players are becoming more and more athletic seemingly every year, from quarterbacks to offensive and defensive linemen. On defense, the “big nickel”, the term given when a defense plays three safeties and one lines up as the nickel defender instead of the traditional cornerback, has become a popular trend that allows secondaries flexibility with size and speed.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah fills in that third safety role for the Notre Dame defense. Assigned to the “rover” position, a linebacker/safety mix, Owusu-Koramoah was tasked with playing primarily in the nickel, but he lined up in a variety of roles for the Fighting Irish.
The “rover” position is used to match up with the Y receiver position, be that a wide receiver, a running back, or tight end. More often than not, JOK was utilized in a man coverage role in this position.
However, Owusu-Koramoah was also heavily involved as a traditional box linebacker, playing around 200 of his 683 snaps in the box. This was an effective strategy, as it let defensive coordinator Clark Lea have flexibility in his fronts and disguise blitzes all season long.
Lea had plenty of praise for Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah:
“I think that he is the evolution of the game at the second level. I think he is exactly the kind of guy that we’re seeing become more relevant and more coveted, both in college and in the pros… With ‘Wu,’ when I watch that tape, you see explosive athleticism all over the place. Defensively, he does so many things on that film, but there are times where he’s so explosive through the line of scrimmage and I’m talking about as a linebacker. Now he plays rover for us, which is like a nickel position essentially, and that kind of folds in a different skill set. I was so impressed with his second level linebacker film. The way he found windows to the ball, the way he accelerated in a bent position, it separated him completely…”
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s impact on film
Lea prioritizes length and range in the linebacker room and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah fits that bill to the letter. His explosiveness pops up on film and is backed by his weight room testing. Owusu-Koramoah appeared on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks list for his freakish athleticism.
“His explosiveness is reflected by his 39-inch vertical, a 10-3 broad jump, and an equally impressive 20.4 mph on his GPS. Owusu-Koramoah also notched 42 pullups in off-season training and back squatted 555 pounds.”
A 39-inch vertical would have put him third among both safeties and linebackers at the 2020 NFL Combine. That explosiveness is backed up on tape.
Watch Owusu-Koramoah flow with the man in motion then break off and match up with TE James Mitchell, who has a good 2 inches+30 pounds on JOK. The explosive 39-inch vertical shows up on tape. Instincts and plays on the ball come in bunches on his tape. pic.twitter.com/vJXb3s9uya
— AJ Schulte (@AJDraftScout) August 5, 2020
JOK's short-area twitch and length are plenty disruptive.
Ask Brock Purdy. Love how he stays collected and doesn't bite on the pump and then attacks. Decisive player. pic.twitter.com/05DH4gKJlV
— AJ Schulte (@AJDraftScout) August 5, 2020
Owusu-Koramoah frequently knifes through the offensive line and scampers around blockers to disrupt the play. His 13.5 tackles for loss last season were the second-most by any Notre Dame defensive player under Brian Kelly. He’s a disruptive force around the ball that caused many offensive coordinators’ headaches trying to contain, especially as the season went on.
Notre Dame also lined up Owusu-Koramoah on the line frequently. He was used as an additional pass rusher and overhang defender to throw off the quarterback. He doesn’t display a ton of pass-rushing moves, but considering that isn’t his full-time position or a necessary requirement, it’s understandable. With his explosiveness off the snap, a quality speed rush for a one-year starter is perfectly fine.
Owusu-Koramoah is an explosive swiss-army knife defender that offers upside to play a variety of roles for an NFL defense. He has the athleticism to match up in man coverage against wide receivers and tight ends and plays the run well, letting him be an effective lynchpin to counter 11 personnel. His explosiveness and twitch translate into great sideline-to-sideline range, and he runs with a hot motor.
His instincts and awareness in coverage were impressive for a first-year starter. While he wasn’t often targeted, Owusu-Koramoah showed good ability to remain in phase and make plays on the ball. With further refinement and another full season under his belt, I’d expect his interception total to increase.
Owusu-Koramoah is part of a new wave of hybrid defenders that head into the NFL. Players like Shaq Thompson, Jabrill Peppers, Derwin James, and Isaiah Simmons were all first-round players, thanks in part to their athleticism and versatility. While there will be question marks about where Owusu-Koramoah will play at the next level, an effective defensive coordinator would be wise to take advantage of his versatility to wreak havoc on opposing offenses.