We are officially inside of championship weekend in college football. Because of the unusual circumstances of the season, cancellations, and postponements, the season looked bleak and it was fair to remain skeptical on if the season would even reach this point.
With a full slate of games and plenty of exciting matchups throughout the weekend, this week's edition of “Reiding Between the Lines” focuses on some players in each matchup that are worth monitoring. Plus, Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is placed under the prospect microscope.
Big XII Championship
Oklahoma vs. Iowa State
12 p.m., ABC
Nik Bonitto, EDGE, Oklahoma
(6-foot-3, 238, rSo.)
In Big XII country, there was a loud uproar among Sooner fans because Bonitto is a finalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, but was nowhere to be found on the first- or second-team all-conference selections. Bonitto currently ranks No. 12 in the country in pressures (35), he’s recorded a stat in the sack category each of the past three weeks with his best game coming against Kansas (3.0). With 6.5 total on the season, Bonitto is aiming to put together one of his better performances of the season when his team will need it the most.
The Cyclones have one of the more explosive offenses in the country, but the unit hasn’t seen a pair of edge rushers like Bonitto and Ronnie Perkins this season. Still a relatively young player, there’s plenty of buzz surrounding the draft stock and upside of the redshirt sophomore outside linebacker who’s also used as an edge rusher.
Big Ten Championship
Northwestern vs. Ohio State
12 p.m., FOX
Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
6-foot-1, 190, Junior
A defensive group that’s been solid all season, the Wildcats have future draft picks on both sides of the ball. Offensive tackle Rashawn Slater is the program's highest-rated player, but since announcing that he was opting out of the 2020 season, things have remained on schedule. Owning a 6-1 record, the team once again enters Saturday’s championship as heavy underdogs against Ohio State for the second time over the last three seasons. Linebacker Paddy Fisher was heralded as the team's highest-rated player on defense, but that spot has quickly been altered.
Newsome II isn’t quite getting a lot of draft buzz right now through the media, but he’s receiving plenty of attention in NFL circles. The junior corner has basically been able to cancel out his side of the field this season. Of cornerbacks that have been targeted at least 20 times this season, Newsome II (33 targets) has surrendered the least amount of yardage into his coverage (83 yards). With nine passes defensed, he’s been stingy as he’s only allowed quarterbacks to have a 29.41% completion percentage when throwing into his zone. Those are standout numbers, but he will be tested often against the talented Buckeyes wide receiver corps that will easily be the best group that he’s matched up against all season.
Florida vs. Alabama
8 p.m., CBS
Josh Jobe, CB, Alabama
(6-foot-1, 192, Jr.)
You could put more than 15 draft-eligible prospects' names in a hat from this game and pull them out to talk about them. That’s the number of notable name players that will be participating in this contest. Kyle Pitts, Patrick Surtain II, Mac Jones, Kyle Trask, and Kadarius Toney, among others, will be the ones mentioned frequently throughout moments leading up to the game and during the game, but another underrated prospect putting together a promising season is worth mentioning
Playing opposite of arguably the top corner prospect in the country is never an easy task, as many teams will choose to attack in your side while avoiding Surtain II, but Jobe has forced teams to rethink that approach. Studying the junior corner over the summer and researching the team's depth chart, head coach Nick Saban floated the possibility of Jobe potentially spending some time at safety. Seeing his body structure, toughness, and love of physicality, it’s apparent why those thoughts surfaced.
In his first season as a full-time starter, Jobe has quickly taken the next step in his development. Recording 38 targets this season, he has only given up 15 catches for 131 yards and a lone score in 10 games. The talks of moving to safety are a far cry and he’s planted his flag as the No. 2 corner.
There still are some issues there with him, though. He still only has recorded one career interception, which came during the 2019 season, but he has tallied 10 passes defensed this season. He also is a bit grabby, which you hope is a phase and tendency that he eventually develops past. Facing one of the deepest and most versatile pass-catching groups in the country, Jobe is a name to keep an eye on, as he’s assured to be busy on Saturday. When polling evaluators, Jobe currently carries a top-100 grade with the possibility of improving it even more down the crucial backstretch of the year.
Prospect Spotlight: Notre Dame Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
Size: 6-foot-2, 215, Sr.
Current Draft Projection: Mid-to-Late 1st Round
Best Team Fits: Browns, Bills, Chiefs, Dolphins, and Eagles
Scout Quote: “He was banged up a little bit early on during his career, but he’s changed quite a bit physically. Chiseled as it gets, but I think you have to protect him a bit as a weak side linebacker or rover. Let him attack from depth out in space. I was wowed by his explosiveness in space and his C.O.D. (change of direction) skills are special. He has all of the stuff he needs to be special. He’ll end as a Day 1 guy.” –– NFC Scout
Athleticism/Range: Labeled as a hybrid player, his fluidity all on surfaces makes for a player that can survive on multiple platforms. Owusu-Koramoah is a more than capable sideline-to-sideline runner that takes wise angles and contains outstanding closing speed to the ball. A run-and-chase type of second-level defender, he’s able to knife through interior gaps as well as collapse outside areas with plenty of momentum. Also expressing quickness in short areas, he has even more upside as a block deconstructor at the point of attack. Having strong hands and the length to stack, shed, and attack, is notable, even though it’s a tactic that he won’t make a living doing down in and down out as he relies more on winning with his natural athleticism.
Three Level Versatility: In the Irish scheme, Owusu-Koramoah plays multiple positions. Spending most of his time as a weak-side linebacker, he’s also proven to be capable as a strong safety. With the body type and athleticism to hold up in coverage, he has the ability to be a heavily reliable contributor at multiple positions. His versatility and instincts shine at both positions, but his best reps have come when attacking the weak side of plays. As a blitzer, Owusu-Koramoah has shown the consistency necessary in order to be counted upon, but also in coverage, he’s an easy mover on all three levels. On the first level, he’s also used often as an edge rusher and he has the unique blend of up the field burst and bend in order to win versus blockers and corner to the QB.
Assignment Discipline: Even though the Notre Dame linebacker is a high-end athlete, he’s not one that plays out of control nor one that depends strictly on that. He exhibits lots of discipline on the backside of runs and it’s clear to see the step-by-step checklist that he quickly goes through before displaying aggressive pursuits of the ball. He also shows this in coverage, as he waits for targets to come to him as opposed to rushing to their frame/locations and false stepping in anticipation of where they may end up.
Tackling Control: Owusu-Koramoah often presents the tendency of flying back into the box out of control when seeking avenues to ball carriers. Coming in hot like a torpedo was shown on his tape, which led to the opposition bouncing off of his body as he failed to wrap up. Relying on his impulse to simply knock down runners has been a misguided plan of attack for him. Coming to balance, wrapping up, and displaying proper tackling form remains a work in progress for him as he’s a player that frequently plays in fast forward while defending the run.
Block Slippage: Because he plays mostly on the weak side, he hasn’t had much exposure to the requirement of slipping blocks. When blockers are able to lineup, aim, and attack the middle of his frame, he has experienced struggles with being able to unravel from them in time to make plays on the ball. Having more than enough athleticism to get skinny and defeat angles at the point of attack, he hasn’t yet shown to do that consistently when forced to play inside of the box.
Exact Size: Hovering in between the 215 to 220 pounds range has caused some mixed reviews about his next-level projection. Some evaluators feel as if he’d be best as a strong safety while there are others that believe Owusu-Koramoah has all the traits necessary in order to be a successful WILL linebacker. “Tweener” will be a label that’s often used with him, but the concerns about his true size will also be another question that follows him closely throughout the draft process.
Projection: As one of the more intriguing defensive prospects in this draft class, Owusu-Koramoah has all of the requisite traits necessary that teams will want in a modern-day linebacker. With his athleticism, versatility, and upside, it’s easy to see why teams will fall in love with him. Projecting best as WILL linebacker, his ability to play multiple roles will only help his draft stock. The further away he’s gotten since his knee injury during the beginning stages of the 2018 season, the better he’s become. Projecting as a top-40 pick and being that he’s an ascending prospect, Owusu-Koramoah has the upside of becoming a starter early on into his career as a weak-side linebacker. As he continues to gain more experience, his game could expand into more areas within the scheme as he eventually becomes a long-term answer on the second level that becomes a staple piece.