Notre Dame's Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah leaves lasting legacy after declaring for NFL Draft

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

The rover position may not leave Notre Dame’s defense anytime soon.

Not after the success story of Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, the first player the Irish specifically recruited to play rover in former defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s 4-2-5 scheme. He signed with Notre Dame via the 2017 recruiting class.

Now a Butkus Award winner and projected first-round pick, Owusu-Koramoah declared for the NFL Draft on Monday. Doing so meant Owusu-Koramoah declined his ability to return to the Irish as a fifth-year graduate senior. He announced the news on social media.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Owusu-Koramoah brought versatility. He wreaked havoc as a blitzer, leading the Irish with 11 tackles for a loss and totaling 1.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries this season. He covered shifty receivers, recording an interception and three pass breakups. He lined up in the box to offer valuable run support, ranking second on the team with 62 tackles.

Mel Kiper, ESPN’s NFL Draft analyst, ranked Owusu-Koramoah as his top outside linebacker and No. 9 overall prospect last month. ESPN’s other NFL Draft analyst, Todd McShay, pegged Owusu-Koramoah at No. 12 overall last week.

No other Notre Dame prospect has been projected that high.

“They trust him covering slot receivers,” McShay said on the Pod of Gold podcast last Wednesday. “They trust him covering tight ends and guys like (Alabama TE) Jhaleel Billingsley, who he’s going to go up against in (the Rose Bowl). You could see him against DeVonta Smith, who is the best wide receiver in the country this year for Alabama, at times in one-on-one (coverage).

“That’s how much they trust him in coverage. Plus the pressure. And then the effort that he brings from sideline to sideline.

“It seems like he’s always on the field, and he’s always running to the football. I love that about him.”

Before the 2019 season, Owusu-Koramoah had yet to record his first tackle for the Irish. He spent year one on the scout team. He played two games as a sophomore before suffering a broken foot that sidelined him for the rest of the season.

Then Owusu-Koramoah earned a starting role as a junior. He tied for the team lead in tackles with 80. His play this season brought him to a first-round projection. Offensive linemen Quenton Nelson (No. 6) and Mike McGlinchey (No. 9) in the 2018 NFL Draft were the last Notre Dame players to be selected among the top 10 overall players.

Nelson also was the last Irish player to claim unanimous All-America honors. If Owusu-Koramoah makes the Walter Camp All-America first team on Thursday, he will join Nelson and become the 30th unanimous All-American in Notre Dame history.

The Irish also will need to replace Clark Lea. The former Notre Dame defensive coordinator recently accepted the head coaching job at Vanderbilt, his alma mater. But Irish head coach Brian Kelly publicly indicated last month that rover is here to stay.

Owusu-Koramoah’s heir apparent might be Prince Kollie, a four-star linebacker who signed with Notre Dame during the three-day early signing period last month. Kollie often draws comparisons with Owusu-Koramoah and claimed the high school version of the Butkus Award this season.

Across 11 games as a senior at Jonesborough (Tenn.) David Crockett, Kollie recorded 109 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, four pass breakup, two sacks and an interception. At running back, Kollie turned 181 carries into 1,562 yards and 26 touchdowns while hauling in 13 passes for 290 yards and three scores.

247Sports ranks Kollie as its No. 5 outside linebacker and No. 91 overall player in the 2021 recruiting class, while Rivals pegs him No. 16 at the position and No. 239 overall.

“People always talk in terms of playmakers on offense. He’s a playmaker on defense. He wrecks your day on offense,” Kelly said last month. “We just saw so many similarities with Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Prince in terms of the way they play, his suddenness and just a natural fit at the rover position for us. Which we will continue to employ in our defensive structure.

“To add a playmaker of his capabilities was so attractive to us, It was just a natural fit.”

Senior Isaiah Pryor, junior Paul Moala and sophomore Jack Kiser are the other options to replace Owusu-Koramoah at rover.

Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was named a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, an award for the national defensive player of the year.