Back in 2018, the Indianapolis Colts sent a few eyebrows skyward when they drafted South Carolina State linebacker Darius Leonard with the 36th overall pick. It’s not that Leonard wasn’t a well-regarded prospect. But there were more draftniks that expected Leonard to be a Day 3 pick than those who believed he’d go inside the top 40. The pick was blasted in some circles. And when IDP drafts rolled around that summer, there wasn’t exactly a stampede to select the 6’2″, 230-pounder.
IDP managers know what happened next. Leonard absolutely exploded off the get—over his first four games in the pros, Leonard piled up a ridonkulous 54 total tackles and four sacks. By the end of his first NFL season, Leonard had racked up a league-leading 163 total tackles, piled up the most fantasy points among linebackers in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring by a massive margin and captured Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
When healthy, he’s the gold standard among not just linebackers but all individual defensive players. He’ll be the first IDP drafted in the overwhelming majority of leagues this summer.
Now, it’s beyond unreasonable to expect a force of nature like that to come along every year. Or every five years. But that hasn’t stopped IDP managers from scouring over every Day 2 pick made since then in the hopes of finding the next fantasy stud. The next Darius Leonard.
Well, there were three off-ball linebackers drafted on Day 2 in 2021. And of that bunch, the youngster most capable of exploding into prominence as a rookie will go from wearing a golden dome to an orange one.
And the kicker of it is he really wasn’t expected to be a Day 2 pick at all.
Range Galore…and a Mean Streak to Match
For most of the leadup to the 2021 draft, the belief was that Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah wouldn’t make it out of the first 32 picks. It wasn’t just a matter of the 62 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception that Owusu-Koramoah posted last year for the Fighting Irish. Or the highlight-reel hits that came with regularity.
As Lance Zierlein wrote at NFL.com, it was a skill-set that appears tailor made for the 21st-century NFL.
“It’s hard to see Owusu-Koramoah’s explosive traits, versatility and playmaking ability on display and not get excited about what is to come,” he said. “Concerns will be raised about his lack of size and occasional lapses in fundamentals, but neither should detract from his rare potential as a game-changing talent. Not only is he fast to range and help control the outside running game, but he has an instant downhill trigger paired with a willingness to take chances, which should lead to big plays near and behind the line of scrimmage. He has the athletic ability to handle man-cover duties on a variety of positions and his rush potential as a wild-card blitzer bolsters his value. There is still a need to harness and control his energetic playing style and his field discipline is still a work in progress. However, his athletic traits, versatility and playmaking demeanor give him a chance to become the most impactful defender in this draft.”
At 221 pounds, Owusu-Koramoah isn’t the biggest linebacker. But size isn’t nearly as important in today’s NFL as range and the ability to hold up in coverage. From all indications, Owusu Koramoah has both in spades—his three-cone and short-shuttle times at Notre Dame’s pro day were easily the best among this year’s big-name LB prospects. He also plays like his hair is on fire, and when he sticks people, they stay stuck.