The Cleveland Browns defense was the talk of the NFL in the 2023 season.
With defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz calling the shots, Cleveland’s defense:
- Led the NFL in third-down percentage at 29.1 percent
- Led the NFL in pass defense by allowing 164.7 passing yards per game
- Led the NFL in net yards per game at 270.2, the fewest yards allowed in the NFL since 2014 and the fewest by a Cleveland defense since 1957
Much of that success was fueled by a defensive line led by defensive end Myles Garrett and a defensive secondary that, when healthy, was among the league’s best.
Because of that, it was often easy to overlook the contributions of the linebackers, but one player in particular who stood out was Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who came into his own in his third year in the league.
Owusu-Koramoah led the defense with 98 tackles, had 3.5 sacks, and tallied 20 tackles for loss, which was the fourth-highest in the league.
It was the type of season the Browns envisioned when they selected JOK in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft and one that caught the attention of Pro Football Focus.
Not only did the analytics-based site highlight Owusu-Koramoah as Cleveland’s most-improved player for 2023, but they also tabbed him, somewhat ironically, as an early breakout candidate for next season.
Looking at the past season, PFF recognized Owusu-Koramoah for his pass-rushing ability:
Owusu-Koramoah struggled to stay healthy during his first two NFL seasons but played in all of Cleveland’s meaningful games in 2023. He missed only the Week 18 game against Cincinnati when Cleveland rested its starters. He was especially good at rushing the passer, ranking third among linebackers in pass-rushing grade (87.2).
Depending on how you look at it, Owusu-Koramoah could arguably have been considered a breakout this year, however, the team didn’t truly trust in him as their consistent lead linebacker until about Week 10. Owusu-Koramoah was averaging just 65% of the team’s defensive snaps prior to that point, and 86% after that. Owusu-Koramoah finished as the 20th highest-graded linebacker on the year and showed plenty of potential down the stretch that he could be an impact player for years to come, along with more playing time.
Cleveland’s defense made significant improvement this past season, especially when it was playing at home. Heading into the second year under Schwartz it is fair to expect the defense to put together a more consistent effort across the entire season, which will be needed as they will see a significant increase in the quality of quarterbacks they will face in 2024.
Having Owusu-Koramoah established at one of the linebacker positions and poised to elevate his game will certainly help the cause as the Browns look to not only return to the playoffs but actually advance past the opening round of games.