NFL Draft: Wait is over for Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who is headed to the Cleveland Browns

Michael Wanbaugh
South Bend Tribune

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah had to wait all night Thursday. He had to wait a little longer Friday night for his NFL dream to come true.

Owusu-Koramoah, a unanimous All-American linebacker from Notre Dame was selected with 20th pick of the second round, 52nd overall, by the Cleveland Browns in the 2021 NFL Draft on Friday night in Cleveland.

Many expected him to be the first Irish linebacker to be selected in the first round since Bob Crable was taken with the 23rd overall pick by the New York Jets in 1982. But he slid out of the first round, marking the second consecutive year the Irish did not have a Thursday night draft pick.

If Owusu-Koramoah had been drafted Thursday, he would have been Notre Dame’s 10th first-round pick in a 10-draft span (2012) under ND head coach Brian Kelly and the 70th first-round pick in program history.

Overall five linebackers went in the first round. As many expected, Penn State's was the first linebacker selected, going No. 12 overall to the Dallas Cowboys. Tulsa's Bronko Nagurski Award winner Zaven Collins went No. 16 to Arizona and Kentucky's Jamin Davis No. 19 to Washington.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah participates in Notre Dame's Pro Day workout on March 31 in South Bend.

Pick 31 Jayson Oweh (6-5, 257) of Penn State to Baltimore and pick 32 Joe Tryon (6-5, 259) of Washington to Tampa Bay are more edge defenders. Parsons (6-3, 246), Collins (6-5, 259) and Davis (6-4, 234) are all considerably larger than the 6-2, 215-pound Owusu-Koramoah, who possesses elite coverage skills, eluding that teams were looking more for pass rushers.

Owusu-Koramoah was also expected to be the first Notre Dame picked in the draft, but offensive linemen Liam Eichenberg and Aaron Banks each went ahead of him in the second round.

The first linebacker selected in the second round was Georgia's Azeez Ojulari who went 50th to the New York Giants.

During Owusu-Koramoah's Pro Day workout in March, the Butkus Award winner showed pro scouts and coaches his quick change-of-direction ability with a 20-yard shuttle of 4.15 and three-cone drill of 6.81 seconds. Missouri’s Cale Garrett was the only linebacker at last year’s NFL Combine to run a faster shuttle and none of the 18 linebackers who completed the three-cone drill last year were faster than Owusu-Koramoah.

But it was on the field during his two years as a starter for the Irish in the highly specialized role of “rover” he was recruited to fill, where Owusu-Koramoah shined brightest, compiling 142 tackles (24.5 of them for a loss), forcing five fumbles, recovering four and intercepting a pass.

Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (6) celebrates after returning a fumble for a touchdown Nov. 7, 2020 against Clemson at Notre Dame Stadium.

During Notre Dame’s thrilling 47-40 double overtime victory over then No. 1 Clemson last season, he returned a fumble 23 yards for a touchdown.

Looking toward his future NFL team, Owusu-Koramoah said last month he wants to mold himself into the team’s culture.

“With anything that’s positive,” he said, “I want to be able to adapt and be relatable to others and give the team what that team ultimately needs.”

As heralded as he’s been, Owusu-Koramoah acknowledged room for improvement in his game at the next level.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (6) defends against Boston College this past season.

“Every defensive person needs to work on tackling,” he said. “I need to work on my angles. Those are two things that I don’t think are my weaknesses, but those are things that I sure need to work on to become the player that I want to become.

“Every missed tackle that I’ve had, I’ve calculated it and said, ‘Wow. Every missed tackle that I’ve had, I’ve left my feet.’ If I can just keep my feet and be more patient on my angles, I’ll be just fine.”

What they were saying …

  • “He is nothing but a consistent, all-around player. I mean you watch him cover, you watch him play the outside, make plays in space, getting into the backfield. He’s smart. Some of the tackles he made in one-on-one, open field situations were remarkable. I haven’t seen a lot of that in recent years. … I think you talk about who the best pure football players are in this draft, I think Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah deserves to be way, way up there.” — ESPN NFL analyst Mel Kiper Jr.
  • “It’s hard to see Owusu-Koramoah's explosive traits, versatility and playmaking ability on display and not get excited about what is to come. … Not only is he fast to range and help control the outside running game, but hi has an instant downhill trigger paired with a willingness to take chances, which should lead to big plays near and behind the line of scrimmage.” — analyst Lance Zierlein
  • “He’s the elite prospect we thought he was. He backed up everything (during the Notre Dame Pro Day) we thought we knew about him.” — Pro Football Focus analyst Mike Renner
  • “(He) is a stud. … He’s a really good, young athletic player who can run all over the place. He can cover the slot. He looks like a perfect weakside linebacker. Turn him free and let him run. I really like the guy.” — Former Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis
Golden Notre Dame moment

In a game packed with big moments, Owusu-Koramoah made his mark during a 47-40 double-overtime win over then-No. 1 Clemson in November 2020. With Notre Dame leading the Tigers 13-10 with about six minutes left in the first half, Owusu-Koramoah broke from his pass coverage at the snap and sprinted into the Clemson backfield. He picked off QB D.J. Uiagalelei’s pitch to RB Travis Etienne and raced 23 yards for his first career touchdown. In addition to Owusu-Koramoah's fumble return for a touchdown he would finish with nine tackles (two for a loss) and another forced fumble. The performance earned him the Nagurski and Bednarik Player of the Week award.

Five things to know

1 — A three-star recruit out of Hampton, Va., Owusu-Koramoah was originally committed to Virginia before Notre Dame lured him, winning a late recruiting battle with Michigan State.

2 — Owusu-Koramoah prepared for his Pro Day workout at the EXOS facility in Frisco, Texas, alongside Alabama running back Najee Harris, LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore.

3 — In addition to achieving unanimous All-American status (just the 30th ND player to do so), Owusu-Koramoah became the third player in the Brian Kelly era to win the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. Manti Te’o in 2012 and Jaylon Smith in 2015 are the others.

Notre Dame's Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, left, has forged a friendship with fellow Hampton Roads, Va.-native and  former NBA MVP Allen Iverson, right.

4 — Owusu-Koramoah developed friendships over his career with fellow Hampton Roads-area legends Allen Iverson and Michael Vick.

5 — During Notre Dame’s one season in the Athletic Coast Conference, Owusu-Koramoah was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah keeps his distance after making a tackle against Duke Nov. 9, 2019, at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C.