When Day 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft concluded, several first-round talents had yet to be taken. Many viewers were shocked to see names like Asante Samuel Jr., Teven Jenkins, Trevon Moehrig, Jevon Holland, Christian Barmore, and Levi Onwuzurike still available after 32 picks. However, the most notable exception from the Day 1 selections was Notre Dame linebacker, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.
According to multiple reports, JOK dropped on many teams’ draft boards because of a “heart issue that came up late in the process,” per Adam Schefter. That sounds serious. That definitely warrants teams being skeptical of selecting him, right? Well, here’s the thing.....JOK had already been cleared by medical professionals prior to the draft. After selecting Owusu-Koramoah with the 52nd overall pick, Browns GM Andrew Berry said “He’s completely healthy. There’s nothing really in his background that would suggest he can’t have a nice, long career.”
JOK’s talent is obvious to everyone. The selection has been universally praised by damn near everyone. I mean, he’s a linebacker with slot cornerback speed. That will always be a valued asset in the National Football League. Despite being the 23rd defensive player taken in the draft, most sites give Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah top-5 odds to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award in the upcoming NFL season. Some sites believe JOK should be the top choice for the award. JOK won the Dick Butkus Award in 2020, awarded each season to college football’s best linebacker (other notable recipients of the award include Patrick Willis, Von Miller, Luke Kuechly, and Devin White). He also earned the distinction of 1st team All-American, 1st Team All-ACC, and ACC Defensive Player of the Year. With a resume like that, it makes you wonder why any team would wait until Day 2 of the NFL Draft to take the 21-year-old despite the health concern.
Other prospects with more serious injury concerns haven’t fallen nearly as far in the past. Take Jaylen Waddle, the number 6 overall selection in the most recent NFL Draft. Waddle, a former Alabama wide receiver, missed almost the entire 2020 college football season with a fractured right ankle. Ankle injuries are particularly worrisome for wide receivers as being able to push off your foot and change direction on a dot are keys to getting open. However, that injury didn’t hurt Waddle’s draft stock. In fact, Waddle went before his teammate and 2020 Heisman Trophy winner, DeVonta Smith. Smith did suffer a dislocated finger, but that injury barely kept him out of one game.
Even more egregious is the NFL’s concern over JOK compared to guys with non-drug related off-field issues. Prior to the draft, Alabama quarterback Mac Jones was held in high regard for his good decision-making. Now, I think we all can agree that drinking and driving is never a good decision to make. So, why didn’t that hurt Jones’s draft stock at all?
Maybe comparing quarterbacks to linebackers is a bit of a stretch — apples to oranges. So then let’s compare JOK to another recent linebacker with an injury history. Reuben Foster had a torn right rotator cuff surgically repaired two months before the 2017 NFL Draft. He also had a history of aggressive behavior and anger management issues, even having to be removed from the 2017 NFL Combine after getting into an altercation with one of the medical staff on the premises. Foster did fall in the draft, but was still selected in the first round with the 31st pick by the San Francisco 49ers. Foster fell approximately 10-15 spots from where he was projected. Owusu-Koramoah, despite having no such history with surgeries or aggression, and after playing every single game for Notre Dame last season, fell approximately 35-40 spots.
It boggles my mind that a player everyone knew was fantastic and every fan, analyst, and general manager acknowledges as an incredible talent, would drop so far for such a minor health concern. Coming into the draft, Owusu-Koramoah was my number one defensive prospect. I am still absolutely confident that he will win Defensive Rookie of the Year. And when he does, hopefully teams won’t pass on the next guy to play an incredible season of football with a seemingly resolved health issue in their past.