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2021 Browns Draft Picks: Why Did Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah Fall?

I simply love the way this guy plays the game.

NFL: Cleveland Browns OTA Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Story time

It is no secret that I absolutely love this player. As this kids say, this one just hits different.

On the first day of the NFL draft I was disappointed that we didn’t draft Owusu-Koramoah with the 26th overall pick. Not overly disappointed, mind you, as I really like Greg Newsome II, his fit with our team, and his ability as an individual.

At the end of the first day I knew that it would be far-fetched to think about JOK in Orange and Brown. I figured someone would pick him right at the top of round two.

But then a few picks into round two, I couldn’t help but get my hopes up. I started pacing. Not quite as much as after Kyrie hit The Shot, but close. When I heard that we traded up, I had that feeling that is all to familiar to Browns fans: my hopes skyrocketed, while I tried to convince myself to squash them as low as possible because we’ve screwed this up a million times before and we could easily screw it up again.

(side note: as someone who lived through the 1999-2020 era, I might not ever be comfortable watching sports ever again. Draft, games, offseason headlines, I’m always passively waiting for the worst somehow. My optimism is only ever cautious. Is anyone else that way?)

When we picked Owusu-Koramoah all I could say to my wife and child was “How?!” over and over and over again as though I were stuck in some Marshawnian loop.

There was a reason I ranked JOK as my 2nd overall player in this draft: I think he is an incredible fit for us and has the ability to unlock the potential of this defense. He makes plays that you should not be able to make, and he is a force in every game you watch.

So am I crazy? (yes, certainly) Or was there some reason NFL teams would pass on a guy this talented? (probably but I think they are overthinking things) Why did 31 other teams pass, some of them twice?

Hybrid weapon, or tweener without a role?

Owusu-Koramoah is simply put a bit of a “tweener”. His tape is pretty incredible, but he is doing mostly linebacker things in a pseudo DB’s body and a pseudo DB’s position. He reportedly played at or under 210lbs during the 2020 season. That’s simply not what you see from a “typical” linebacker prospect. Sometimes teams ask themselves “what do we do with this guy?” and they can’t find an immediate answer so they stop trying. They want to avoid going out on a limb because if that branch breaks they will look dumb.

But I think players like JOK and Isaiah Simmons are the future of NFL defenses, players that colleges produce who are too good to ignore even if they don’t fit cleanly into a traditional NFL scheme. Teams who can exploit these market inefficiencies are the teams like the early-Belichick-era New England Patriots, who let good football players fall to them and figured out how to play their versatility as a strength instead of a weakness. They started a trend of using college 4-3 defensive ends as 3-4 OLBs, college DTs as 4/5-technique DEs. And they have been able to use guys like Jamie Collins who no one else–including our Browns–can seem to deploy well.

Why not simply take a good defender and figure the rest out later? Is it really “going out on a limb” if that branch is structurally sound?

College trends become pro trends

College defenses are developing this hybrid LB/S type of player because of who and how they have to defend. The Ohio State Buckeyes tried to integrate such a position and failed, but their need to defend modern college defenses is so great that they are now trying again. Clemson had done a variety of exotic things with Simmons, Texas has experimented with dropping a LB as a part of a 3 deep safety look, and TCU is basically famous for its 4-2-5 that basically pushed passed a “hybrid” player and turned that guy into a full-fledged DB. Many programs now base out of that defensive structure, including Nick Saban’s Alabama defense.

For years (decades?) now, college concepts and trends have been adapted into the pro game. Do we all remember how much air time was devoted to wondering if college QBs could take snaps from under center in the NFL, even as recently as Baker Mayfield’s draft? NFL teams went to a shotgun formation on 65% of plays last year. RPOs have become a staple of many teams. Lamar Jackson is a legit MVP candidate despite being a pretty average thrower of footballs because he is an electric runner. Josh Allen does a good amount of running too. And Patrick Mahomes runs what might be the most college-y offense in the NFL.

For the Browns, the need to defend mobile quarterbacks and spread offenses are already here. We play Lamar Jackson twice per year, and he gashed us for 47 points in a game we really wanted in the thick of a playoff race last year. 47 (!) despite Trace McSorley making an appearance in the game. “Just stop Lamar from running” is easy to say, but we allowed him 10.4 yards per rush before contact in that game, 124 yards total. We could not make him stop running, not even close. And when we did force him to pass, we left him layups for touchdowns.

Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and Trey Lance just entered the league, and all can move. While they don’t play in the AFC, Russ Wilson and Kyler Murray look to be running around quite a bit too. Joe Burrow isn’t exactly a statue, and neither is Justin Herbert. The Bills are another successful AFC team who are built around a mobile guy, with a coach who graduated from Nick Saban’s Coach Rehabilitation Program™ (Brian Daboll completely transformed his offense at Alabama). And oh yeah, there’s a pretty good team with this guy Mahomes who likes to move a little bit too. We have to defend these guys, and our defense can’t look like it did in 1985.

JOK

So why, exactly did a guy who fits a modern defense fall to us in the draft? I don’t actually know. I still don’t understand how we were able to manage to snag both Owusu-Koramoah and Greg Newsome II. I’m still stuck in that Marshawnian loop.

My best guess is because he doesn’t fit the old prototype. But NFL offenses are more “college” than ever, and the teams who draft and coach at the front of the change are going to be ahead of the ones who are still coaching in the 90s.

Owusu-Koramoah runs, hits, covers, beats blocks, knocks footballs loose, can rush the passer, and makes plays that no one else makes. Provided we set him up for success by slotting him into a reasonable role at first and only expand it when he is ready, I think he can grow into a special player for us.

Tomorrow I’m going to be posting a video detailing exactly how Owusu-Koramoah was deployed at Notre Dame. After that, I’ll take a look at some of his individual traits and some of the versatility he might be able to show off in the NFL. I hope you’ll tune in.

Stay tuned and go Browns!