Notre Dame’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 4, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
Over the past month, BlueandGold.com has featured a countdown of the 25 most pivotal figures relied on to help lead Notre Dame back to the College Football Playoff in 2020.
This is not necessarily about who is the best player or the top pro prospect. It’s more along the lines of individuals that need to either emerge, remain a centerpiece or significantly elevate their production to facilitate the Fighting Irish’s goal of climbing toward championship timber.
Much is based on talent and impact, but a premium is also placed on these questions: 1) If you subtracted this individual from the roster, how much of a setback would it be? 2) If a less proven player emerges and makes an impact, how much does that raise the ceiling (or lower it, if a breakout does not happen as expected)? The players and their ranking were determined by vote from five BlueandGold.com writers.
No. 4 is senior rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who collected 106 points out of 125 possible in our poll.
Why Owusu-Koramoah Is Ranked Fourth
Four of our five voters ranked the senior rover No. 3 in this survey.
A year ago at this time it would have been unfathomable to envision him holding such a lofty perch this preseason. Owusu-Koramoah redshirted as a freshman in 2017 partly because he didn’t even turn 18 until that November. As a sophomore in 2018 he was sidelined the final 11 games because of a broken foot suffered in practice. He had appeared on special teams, but didn’t record any stats.
The third year is when someone is most likely to blossom after some setbacks or biding one’s time, and few have done it with such force in the last decade as Owusu-Koramoah. The same suddenness that has earmarked his play on the field occurred with his meteoric ascent into a prominent role last season.
In a tight battle with then sophomore Paul Moala in the spring and August 2019, Owusu-Koramoah won the starting rover position that had been vacated by the shift of 2018 starter Asmar Bilal to Buck linebacker to replace the graduated Drue Tranquill — who had been the starting rover in 2017 before likewise shifting to Buck the ensuing year.
Unlike in 2018 and 2019, defensive coordinator Clark Lea did not relocate the rover to Buck this spring because he has the prototype at the hybrid rover position with the supremely athletic Owusu-Koramoah.
Deceptively strong at 6-1½, 215 pounds, Owusu-Koramoah can hold the edge versus the run, yet also laterally transition with excellent quickness or close while going downhill better than virtually any linebacker in the 10-year Brian Kelly era (Jaylon Smith is the standard in such mobility) — and he can serve as the big nickel in sub packages, where he doesn’t need to come off the field in obvious passing situations.
“He’s represented everything we want at that rover position: can play man to man, he blitzes, he’s disruptive on the perimeter, makes the perimeter screen game a challenge,” Lea said of Owusu-Koramoah, who paced the team last season in solo stops (54), tackles for loss (13.5) and sacks (5.5). “We expect those skills to continue to enhance.”
Among returning Fighting Irish defenders, Owusu-Koramoah and senior nose tackle Kurt Hinish are the only ones who started all 13 games in 2019. The reluctance by Lea to take Owusu-Koramoah off the field also showed with his 683 snaps, the most among any returning Notre Dame defender. When Bilal played the same position a year earlier, he had 560 and he was regularly taken out in the nickel packages.
Owusu-Koramoah’s Status Entering The Season
Possessing such versatile skill sets is a rare commodity, which is what makes him possibly Notre Dame’s top prospect for the 2021 NFL Draft. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay ranked him No. 17 among “draftable” players in 2021 — meaning Owusu-Koramoah actually could become the first Fighting Irish linebacker selected in the first round since College Football Hall of Fame inductee Bob Crable in 1982.
Especially versus the quick-paced spread offenses, he represents the model of “fundamental freakishness” required as an every-down player.
Early last season, some of the rawness was evident, but so were the quick-twitch reactions and explosiveness of his hits. Owusu-Koramoah closed with a flourish in Notre Dame’s 33-9 trouncing of Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl when he was named to ESPN’s All-Bowl Team. The Hampton, Va., native recorded nine stops, four of them behind the line of scrimmage. His three sacks included forcing a fumble that he recovered, and another coming on fourth down.
The absence of spring drills was a missed opportunity for everyone, but with Owusu-Koramoah receiving another year of tutelage under Lea, he should be one of the nation’s premier hybrid figures on defense because of the myriad skill sets he provides. Not many can have so many different tools that can be utilized.
What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?
Not needing to return for an eligible fifth season in 2021 because there will be such a high demand for him in the NFL, maybe even on the first day of the draft.
Last year, he and classmate Drew White came out of nowhere to become two of the top surprises in the Kelly era. Now, with a veteran front line in front of them and a full year of seasoning and improvement, Owusu-Koramoah’s array of skills are primed to be showcased. For more on his athletic skills and background that got him to where he is today, this feature by BlueandGold.com writer Patrick Engel provides some insight.
Behind The Ranking
The top 25 was determined in the same manner as the Associated Press poll. Five BlueandGold.com writers submitted their ballots, and each position on the ballot was given a point value. The top ranking was worth 25 points, No. 2 was worth 24, No. 3 worth 23 and so on down until No. 25, which was worth one point. The players with the 25 highest point totals made the list.
Patrick Engel: 3
Lou Somogyi: 3
Mike Singer: 3
Todd Burlage: 12
Andrew Mentock: 3