Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah met all the expectations the Browns believed he could achieve as a talented, first-round caliber rookie of the 2021 draft class.
Owusu-Koramoah, of course, was not a first-round draft pick. He wasn't drafted until 52nd overall, but he received a first-round grade from the Browns in the pre-draft process — they saw him as a future tackling machine with tremendous speed and instincts showcased across two full seasons at Notre Dame.
Those projections held up well in Owusu-Koramoah's rookie season. He's second on the Browns with 74 tackles and has totaled four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and 1.5 sacks as Cleveland heads into its final week of the regular season. His snap usage has increased across the year as he continued to establish himself as a well-rounded defender.
Defensive coordinator Joe Woods lauded Owusu-Koramoah on Thursday and believes 2021 was just the beginning of a bright career, one he believes will keep Cleveland's defense strong for years to come.
"The sky's the limit for JOK," Woods said. "He's so dynamic in so many areas. I think throughout the season, as he got more comfortable, you saw his ability show up in different areas at times."
From sniffing out screen plays and short passes to packing pressure on the quarterback — and the constant duty of stuffing run plays at the line of scrimmage — "JOK" has brought the whole package the Browns desperately wanted when they saw him creep into the middle parts of the second round of the draft.
They traded up seven spots to grab him, and it's an exchange the Browns haven't had any regrets about as they look forward to expanding Owusu-Koramoah's defensive role in coming seasons. He's still just 22 years old, yet he's had his moments where he appears to be a seasoned veteran — his 13-tackle game in Week 12, where he helped shorten the potent rushing abilities from Ravens QB Lamar Jackson, was one prime example.
If it wasn't for missing three games in the middle of the season with an ankle injury, fellow rookie CB Greg Newsome II believes Owusu-Koramoah would be garnering much more attention for a quality first NFL season.
"If he doesn't get that injury, I think we're having a debate of who's going to win Defensive Player of the Year between him and Micah Parsons," Newsome said. "He was playing unbelievable before the injury, and he was playing great after the injury as well."
Accolades, however, aren't needed for the Browns to see the talent they have in Owusu-Koramoah. His versatility and speed is the perfect tool for the Browns to maximize as he continues to adjust to the NFL and enters his first full offseason, and it's why Woods believes he'll become a staple player on the defense for years to come.
"I think he really feels comfortable," Woods said. "I think he can be a dynamic player for a long time for us."
Check out exclusive photos from the practice fields at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus of the Browns preparing for their Week 18 game against the Cincinnati Bengals
AVP praises Njoku
Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt believes fifth-year TE David Njoku improved multiple parts of his game that helped him take a valuable leap this season.
Njoku, a 2017 first-round pick, leads the Browns with four receiving touchdowns and is third with 464 receiving yards. Both those categories are the highest he's achieved since a four-touchdown, 639-yard season in 2018, and they still don't show the true value of what Njoku has meant to the offense.
"He's very good at the point of attack in the run game, and it's tough to find in tight ends," Van Pelt said. "He did it at a high level. I'm very proud of his season. He did some good things on both sides of the pass game and the run game."
Benefits of three stud CBs
In addition to praising Owusu-Koramoah, Woods discussed how much he cherished having rookie CB Greg Newsome II on the roster to complete a trio of three quality cornerbacks who all contributed for most of the 2021 season.
Those corners, of course, were Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams and Newsome. The trio combined for 28 pass breakups and five interceptions and did a commendable job of stepping in for one another whenever injuries arose or when rest was needed during games. CB Troy Hill, who primarily played in the slot, also chipped in and could be relieved by either of the other three top cornerbacks when necessary.
It's the kind of performance the Browns knew the group could achieve if each of them remained healthy for most of the season. Ward, Williams and Newsome missed only a combined six games this season, and the entire position was remarkably productive as a result.
"To have those three corners," Woods said, "that makes you feel good as a coordinator because you feel like you can call anything on your game plan."