Notre Dame LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah finally finds an NFL fit with Cleveland

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Of the 18 schools that offered Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah a football scholarship coming out of Bethel High in Hampton, Va., four years ago, 10 envisioned him as a wide receiver.

Three of the 18 schools that recruited him were Ivy League institutions.

Another two schools, not among the 18, liked him as a basketball guard and pursued him for that.

But when Clark Lea pitched the concept of playing a position called rover, initially in the Wake Forest defense, Owusu-Koramoah was intrigued.

The eventual Notre Dame unanimous All-American’s turbulent-yet-ultimately-triumphant NFL Draft experience reflected both Owusu-Koramoah’s eventual mastery of the position and the fact that not every NFL team’s defensive scheme has evolved to the point where it fits conceptually.

That’s largely why a consensus top 20 draft prospect tumbled to pick No. 52 overall, 20 selections into round 2 on Friday night.

An ascending Cleveland Browns franchise traded up to get the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder after strongly considering taking him with their first-round pick, No. 26 overall, the night before.

The crowd attending the draft in person in Cleveland roared its approval.

“People run different schemes,” Browns chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta said. “Again, I think our scheme is perfect for him. So in that sense, maybe we were the beneficiary in terms of having a scheme that was a perfect match for him.

“I do not think people dispute what he can do on the field. I can tell you this: Right before I came downstairs to jump on this call, I was in (linebackers coach) Jason Tarver’s office with (defensive coordinator) Joe Woods and (head coach) Kevin Stefanski.

“And they were already up on the whiteboard excited to talk about all of the different things they could do with him.”

By the time Owusu-Koramoah found a home, two of his teammates had already been selected — offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg heading to Miami at pick No. 42 and offensive guard Aaron Banks joining forces with former ND All-America tackle Mike McGlinchey with the San Francisco 49ers, six picks after Eichenberg.

Tight end Tommy Tremble followed in the third round, going to the Carolina Panthers with the 83rd pick overall, and tackle Robert Hainsey — possibly a guard or center as a pro — was next at pick 95 to the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

At least three more, and possibly as many as five, Irish teammates could be selected in rounds 4-7 when the draft concludes Saturday starting at noon EDT (ABC, ESPN, NFL Network).

Owusu-Koramoah was selected with the exact pick (No. 52) and the exact team that four years ago was used to acquire Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer. But Kizer went to a Cleveland team coming off a 1-15 season, and that followed with an 0-16 showing Kizer’s rookie year.

Owusu-Koramoah joins a Browns team that went 11-5 in 2020 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

“A glorious feeling. It is a monumental feeling,” he said via Zoom Friday night of his selection by Cleveland. “I am so glad that the coaches gave me an opportunity to be able to show why I was supposed to be where I am supposed to be.

“It is all love. It is a genuine feeling that the coaches would take a chance on me, and I am appreciative of that. Glory be to God.”

Not that the waiting was easy.

“My spirituality is extremely strong for me,” he said. “There was a point where I had to take a stance with faith to be able to lock in on my responsibilities, to be able to lock in on controlling the controllables.

“Being able to understand it’s a matter of controlling what you can control, and what you can't control, you got to let those things by.”

Owusu-Koramoah wasn’t on Notre Dame’s radar for most of the 2017 recruiting cycle in which he signed. He initially committed to Virginia over Wake Forest, the latter where Lea was linebackers coach and Mike Elko defensive coordinator.

But when head coach Brian Kelly hired both in a seismic staff turnover following a 4-8 season, Lea and Elko rekindled the relationship and eventually secured his verbal commitment on signing day.

He was the first player Notre Dame recruited specifically for the rover position.

Owusu-Koramoah redshirted as a freshman and suffered a season-ending injury as a sophomore, and headed into his junior season with zero career tackles. Then everything fell into place and for two years he became a dominant force in a defense ranked in the top 15 nationally in scoring defense with a coverage skill set some safeties would envy.

“What we thought we had in him immediately was somebody we thought was going to be a playmaker on defense,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “We saw a guy that closed on the ball, had really good instincts, just didn’t know when that would occur.

“I think we were all pretty excited about an elite athlete, and it was just going to be a matter of time when he picked up on things. Quite frankly, we adapted to him, and did a really good job of adapting to his skill set, which we should, right? You get a player of that capability, and that ability needs to show itself.”

Owusu-Koramoah joins former Notre Dame defensive tackle Sheldon Day on the Browns roster. It’s a team he watched extensively during the 2020 season, ironically, picturing how he might fit in.

“I’m working right now,” he told the media. “I told my mom, ‘I’m about to go outside and run on the beach, run a mile or two.’ The coaches have a great system — no bark, all bite.

“It's been a blessing to see everything come to fruition. I’m looking forward to it. Words can’t explain.”

Notre Dame rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (6) finally found an NFL fit Friday night, with the Cleveland Browns as a second-round draft selection.