In the modern NFL, versatility, adaptability and alignment flexibility are more important than ever.
Offensive coaches covet versatile athletes who they can move around the formation to create mismatches, and defensive coaches in turn seek out multi-skilled defenders who will not be exposed by certain matchups. Furthermore, with the constant stream of injuries in the sport and only 51 active players on the field on game day, having players who can capably fill multiple roles allows more flexibility in roster construction.
True versatility in the NFL is not just the ability to perform in multiple facets at a sufficient level, but the capacity to fill diverse roles at a high level. With that said, we decided to take a look at which incoming rookies can make high-level, multi-faceted contributions to their new teams in Year 1:
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB/SAF
Cleveland Browns (Round 2, Pick 52)
The 6-1, 215-pound Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah fell to the second round due to reported heart issues and his status as a tweener in the eyes of some. But in 2021, one coordinator’s tweener is another’s valuable chess piece. Owusu-Koramoah is undersized as an inside linebacker and may not quite have the coverage chops to play as a true safety, but he will be able to thrive in the NFL as a versatile overhang.
With his excellent speed, high-end motor, and keen instincts, Owusu-Koramoah can capably fill multiple roles in Joe Woods’ 4-3 defense. His ability to man up with tight ends, running backs and slot receivers while remaining a force against the run will allow Woods to leave the Browns defense in a base 4-3 more often, with Owusu-Koramoah effectively functioning as a big nickel or undersized linebacker.
The Notre Dame product will also have the unenviable task of spying Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson twice a year, and may be one of the few second-level defenders in the NFL capable of tracking Jackson’s near-hip from sideline to sideline.
When he’s not spying, Owusu-Koramoah will be able to show off his great timing off the edge as a pass rusher, which will allow Woods to get creative with some exotic blitzes from the slot.
Owusu-Koramoah’s College Snap Count:
- Slot Corner: 693 snaps (337 in 2020)
- Box: 439 snaps (218 in 2020)
- Defensive Line: 200 snaps (89 in 2020)
- Wide Corner: 21 snaps (15 in 2020)
- Free Safety: 2 snaps (2 in 2020)
Najee Harris, RB
Pittsburgh Steelers (Round 1, Pick 24)
At 6-1 and 232 pounds, Najee Harris has the size of a prototypical NFL power back, and his skill set stretches well beyond that moniker. Though his bread will be buttered between the tackles in Pittsburgh, the Steelers clearly plan to take advantage of his ability as a receiver as much as possible.
“They’re going to, I guess, line me up out wide and stuff like that, how I did in college – utilize the running back in the passing game out wide, in the slot, all the way out to the ‘X’ position,” Harris told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Harris was dynamic as a receiver at Alabama, showing good hands, crisp route running and sublime body control to adjust to passes outside his frame. And his pass catching prowess should allow the Steelers to get creative and use him all over the field when needed.
In an offense that has relied on three-down bell cow running backs in the past, Harris should fit in seamlessly due to his ability to thrive on power runs, his receiving versatility and his NFL-ready pass blocking skills.
Harris’ College Snap Count:
- Backfield: 1529 (605 in 2020)
- Wide Receiver: 46 (21 in 2020)
- Slot Receiver: 37 (17 in 2020)
- Quarterback: 3 (2 in 2020)
Richie Grant, SAF
Atlanta Falcons, (Round 2, Pick 40)
Richie Grant could be found all across the field at UCF, toggling between single-high and two-high alignments as a deep safety, manning up in the slot or rolling down into the box depending on the situation.
With an intriguing combination of range and aggression, Grant will be able to start at either safety spot in Dean Pees’ 4-3 scheme. In taking Grant in the second round, the Falcons are assuredly expecting him to do more than just play at the third level.
Grant showcased sticky man coverage ability on film and at the Senior Bowl, and may have been the best of any defensive back at covering slot receivers down in Mobile. At 6-foot, 197 pounds, he has the size to cover tight ends as well, and the timing and verticality to out-jump bigger targets at the catch point.
For a team that has been struggling with both health and production in the secondary for the past few years, Grant can immediately step in as a versatile three-level impact player and be a pillar of Atlanta’s back seven.
Grant’s College Snap Count:
- Free Safety: 1202 (276 in 2020)
- Slot Corner: 759 snaps (191 in 2020)
- Box: 843 snaps (250 in 2020)
- Wide Corner: 42 snaps (37 in 2020)
- Defensive Line: 23 snaps (10 in 2020)
Kadarius Toney, WR
New York Giants, (Round 1, Pick 20)
The Giants are heavily invested in finding out if Daniel Jones is the franchise quarterback of the future, and one of the featured additions who will help them determine that is Kadarius Toney, a 6-foot, 193-pound offensive weapon.
Toney was originally recruited to Florida as a quarterback, but he switched to receiver early in his collegiate career. He showed flashes of elite playmaking ability over his first few seasons before breaking out as a versatile weapon in 2020.
Toney’s electrifying speed and quick twitch stop-and-start ability make him an excellent run-after-catch threat, and the Gators showed how to get the ball in his hands in a multitude of ways.
Toney lined up as a wildcat quarterback, in the backfield, in the slot, and out wide on numerous occasions, and even showed some between-the-tackles rushing ability. He’ll also bring an electric element in the return game, where he shows off his spatial awareness and open-field evasiveness. Getting a versatile playmaker who makes things happen after the catch will be a major boost for Jones, as he can just put the ball in Toney’s hands and let him go to work.
Toney’s College Snap Count:
- Slot Receiver: 724 (523 in 2020)
- Wide Receiver: 401 (123 in 2020)
- Backfield: 34 (23 in 2020)
- Quarterback: 34 (0 in 2020)
- Inline: 8 (5 in 2020)
Joseph Ossai, EDGE
Cincinnati Bengals (Round 3, Pick 69)
Joseph Ossai is a 6-4, 256-pound edge rusher and outside linebacker who learned to be versatile in college after playing multiple roles. He played in an off-ball linebacker role in 2019, racking up a lot of coverage reps before transitioning to an on-ball pass rushing role in 2020.
With excellent speed, pass rush ability, coverage chops, and a stout frame, the Bengals will keep offenses on their toes while lining up Ossai off the edge or at linebacker. He’ll be able to rush the passer, drop into coverage, or stop the run from multiple alignments. One doesn’t often find a potential starting pass rusher with 150 career snaps in the slot.
With an extremely high-level motor, Ossai will help the Bengals continue to build a core group of fast, high-intensity culture-setters. Ossai’s excellent versatility and ability to fill multiple roles will simply be a bonus for them.
Ossai’s College Snap Count:
- Defensive Line: 960 snaps (583 in 2020)
- Box: 462 snaps (15 in 2020)
- Slot Corner: 150 snaps (2 in 2020)