The Green Bay Packers arguably need reinforcements at all three levels of their defense. Even if general manager Brian Gutekunst decides to take a defensive player in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft, it’s uncertain which area of the defense he’ll address first.
There’s no guarantee he will be available when the Packers pick at 29. But if Gutekunst can find a way to select Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, he’ll have found a player who can make an immediate impact all over the defense.
For starters: The likelihood is that Owusu-Koramoah won’t be there at 29. Both ESPN and CBS have the Butkus Award winner selected by the Washington Football Team at 19, but stranger things have happened. His physical attributes (6’1″, 221 lbs) compare to another undersized linebacker prospect in LSU’s Patrick Queen (6’0, 229 lbs), and he just so happened to get selected by the Baltimore Ravens with the No. 28 pick last year. Consider that the two have almost identical vertical leaps (36.5″ for JOK, 35″ for Queen) and broad jumps (each at 125″), and the similarities grow.
While Owusu-Koramoah doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional middle linebacker, his size and skill set could be an asset just about everywhere else. He can be brought off the edge, and he can cover well as a linebacker or drop into a hybrid safety or slot corner role. In his profile of Owusu-Koramoah on the Packers.com homepage, Mike Spofford said that both linebacker and safety need quality players, and the rookie could come in and make an impact right away.
In any event, neither position is flush with depth, and there’s no telling how new defensive coordinator Joe Barry might deploy a hybrid player like Owusu-Koramoah in sub-packages. If Barry’s inclinations are anything like his predecessor’s, there’s a place and plenty of playing time for a defender like this.
Spofford’s point is valid. The Packers have Kenny Clark to anchor the defensive line, Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith to lead the edge rushers, and Jaire Alexander and Adrian Amos leading the charge in the secondary. It serves to reason that a player like Owusu-Koramoah, who played the rover position at Notre Dame, could help on all levels, depending on what sub-packages Barry is feeling at the moment.
In his two seasons with the Fighting Irish, Owusu-Koramoah spent the most time in the slot, but he frequently lined up in the box and on the line. There shouldn’t be very much foreign to JOK, defensively.
Here’s the breakdown, according to Rivals:
With Owusu-Koramoah’s versatility that allowed him to slide between duties as a slot defender, a traditional linebacker, a blitzer and a nickel back, Lea rarely had to substitute for him. Last season, he played 328 snaps in the slot, 215 in the box and 88 on the defensive line, per Pro Football Focus. The 2019 distribution is similar: 352 slot, 218 box, 107 defensive line.
Owusu-Koramoah played — and produced — everywhere that Brian Kelly needed him to at Notre Dame. He totaled seven sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss in just 25 games with the Fighting Irish, adding an interception, seven pass breakups, and five forced fumbles in two seasons. There’s a reason he was named as a first-team Associated Press All-American and ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
Drafting Owusu-Koramoah would be adding a wild card to the defense, in the best sense possible. He might not slot in anywhere naturally in a base 3-4 defense, but all signs are that Barry won’t be living within that formation for extensive periods of time. Essentially, even though a player like Owusu-Koramoah might not crack the starting lineup, he could still be a vital part of what Green Bay does on a down-to-down basis.
Gutekunst has shown a willingness to package picks to move up in the first round of the draft, even though the jury is still out — way out — on how the approach worked last year. Several factors could force Owusu-Koramoah to slide just a bit, including the abundance of quarterbacks slated to go early, the incredible talent at positions like wide receiver, and players like Zaven Collins — who Mitch Widmeier argued would be a great pick for the Packers — and Micah Parsons at a similar position that linebacker-needy teams may snap up first.
The general manager who drafts Owusu-Koramoah needs to have a vision of how to use him. His physical traits are unquestioned, with NFL.com including range, motor, and explosiveness amongst his best attributes. However, the lack of a defined position might scare off a front office with the thought that true instincts might not be there, and he’s been able to live off his athleticism so far.
So much can happen before the Packers’ No. 29 selection comes up. If Owusu-Koramoah gets past the widely suggested fit of Washington at No. 19, Gutekunst had better be busting out the Rolodex to see if Green Bay can swoop in to find this difference-maker for his defense.