Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah could form a devastating coverage duo with C.J. Mosley for the New York Jets.
For a long while, the New York Jets have lacked linebackers who could adequately get the job done in coverage. In a modern NFL where offenses are hellbent upon creating and exploiting mismatches in the passing game, that’s a major problem.
C.J. Mosley was signed to put an end to those problems back in 2019, but with him off the field for all but two games, the Jets have experienced familiarly brutal results from their linebackers in coverage.
While Mosley will be returning and former Lions first-round pick Jarrad Davis will be joining him, the Jets still need a third linebacker to fill out Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich’s base 4-3 defense, so they will certainly have the position on their radar entering the draft. How early they choose to target it is anyone’s guess, but it remains a need. Blake Cashman is the only viable option on the roster to compete for that third spot, but he certainly has not proven enough on the field – or stayed on it for long enough – to be considered more than a wild card at this point.
Mosley is the prototype MIKE linebacker, possessing the leadership, football IQ, and play recognition proficiency to man the middle of the defense. He also has the ability to slide over and effectively play either the weak side and strong side if the situation calls for it, possessing enough coverage talent and open-field tackling ability to handle the weak side and enough power and size to handle the strong side.
Newly-signed Jarrad Davis is a good fit for the SAM linebacker role, primarily rotating in for certain situations to handle the strong side of the formation where his physical tools can shine and his weaknesses with play recognition and in space can be hidden. You could also see him at MIKE sometimes.
In particular, what the Jets could really use at the position is a prototype WILL linebacker – a smaller, rangier, more agile player who thrives in coverage, can cover a lot of ground, and can be utilized in a variety of unique ways across the formation. That’s what they lack most at the moment with the 250-pound Mosley and 245-pound Davis leading the depth chart. Davis is not a great coverage player (he showed progress in 2020 but has to maintain it for more than one year), and while Mosley certainly is, he’s a classic middle linebacker (and a great one at that), not someone who can or should be asked to move around too much.
Enter Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. If the Jets are willing to select a linebacker with their first-round pick via the Seahawks at No. 23 overall, Owusu-Koramoah is their guy, as he checks all of the boxes that they will be looking for their new WILL linebacker to check. Put him next to Mosley, and the Jets’ coverage at linebacker could be turned from a ghastly eyesore to a prime strength.
Let’s dig into some of the aspects of Owusu-Koramoah’s game that make him an intriguing option for the Jets at No. 23.
Owusu-Koramoah is eerily reminiscent of a unique player that the Jets had their eyes on about a month ago.
On the second day of the free agency period, the Jets were reportedly one of the two finalists in the sweepstakes for Falcons safety Keanu Neal, who ended up signing with the Cowboys. Both teams pursued him with the idea of moving him to WILL linebacker. Neal stands at 6-foot-1 and 216 pounds and took on a sizable amount of snaps at nearly every defensive position outside of the defensive line for the Falcons in 2020, playing frequently at inside linebacker, strong safety, free safety, and slot corner.
Perhaps the Jets could look to Owusu-Koramoah to fill the role they had in mind for Neal. Owusu-Koramoah was listed by Notre Dame at an extremely similar frame of 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds. Like Neal, he was a versatile chess piece for the Fighting Irish. In 2020, Owusu-Koramoah lined up in the slot on 50.7% of his snaps while lining up in the box as an inside linebacker on 33.2% of his snaps. He also played 13.6% of his snaps at outside linebacker and even played 2.5% of his snaps at outside cornerback or free safety.
Owusu-Koramoah weighed in at 221 pounds at his pro day, perhaps a sign that he is bulking up a tad for the NFL.
As you would expect from a player who has been trusted to take on such a wide array of roles throughout the defensive backfield, Owusu-Koramoah is renowned for his coverage ability first and foremost.
Owusu-Koramoah earned a coverage grade of 82.3 at Pro Football Focus in 2020, placing at the 96th percentile among qualified FBS linebackers. Over 34 targets in his direction, Owusu-Koramoah allowed just eight conversions (1 TD and 7 first downs), a minuscule rate of 23.5% that placed at the 85th percentile.
Adding to his ability to make a positive impact in the passing game, Owusu-Koramoah is a dangerous blitzing threat. He picked up 27 pressures over 133 pass-rush snaps throughout his Notre Dame career, a standout pressure rate of 20.3% (2020 NFL LB average: 14.3%). Most notably, Owusu-Koramoah picked up 5.5 sacks in 2019 over only 54 opportunities to get after the quarterback.
Time to see all of the numbers in action.
Owusu-Koramoah is big enough to pass as a linebacker (well, just barely), but he truly does have the skills of a defensive back in coverage.
Manning up in the slot against future 2021 draft pick Amari Rodgers, Owusu-Koramoah stays step-for-step for Rodgers the entire way, attaching to his back hip and shutting down the corner route. Owusu-Koramoah shows good patience off the snap as he hangs back and waits to open up his hips until Rodgers commits to a certain direction. Once Owusu-Koramoah sees Rodgers begin working inside, you can see his athleticism pop off the screen as he fluidly flips his hips, gets hands-on, and glides stride-for-stride with Rodgers down the field.
There aren’t many linebackers in the NFL who can do things like that at all, let alone consistently, which is the case for Owusu-Koramoah. Here, he puts another lockdown slot coverage rep on tape – and this is a special one, showcasing the breadth of his superstar potential.