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Why Jer'Zhan Newton is The BEST Defensive Player in The 2024 NFL Draft

By Peter Andrisani (The Mock Draft Guy)


Every year, there is one prospect that I think people should be much higher on. Maybe a prospect, that even though they are considered a first-round talent, is still slept on. That prospect this year, for me, is Illinois Defensive Lineman, Jer’zhan “Johnny” Newton. These prospect profiles are made to highlight a player’s strengths, Areas for improvement, scheme Fit, Team Fits, Pro comparison, and overall draft Projection. 


STRENGTHS


I usually don’t start these player profiles with statistics, but I want you all to grasp just how impressive Jer’Zhan Newton was in 2022 for the Fighting Illini:


  1. AP Second Team All-American

  2. Academic All-Big 10

  3. Led the nation's No. 1 scoring defense in TFLs (14.0), sacks (5.5), quarterback hurries (11), and fumble recoveries (2)

  4. Tied for the national lead in quarterback hits (19) 

  5. Led Power-5 interior defensive linemen in pressures (59), seven more than any Power-5 interior defensive lineman, and ranked seventh overall in the nation 

  6. The Only Big Ten defensive linemen to play 400+ snaps

  7. Ninth highest-graded defender in the nation and No. 4 in Power-5 with a (91.5) PFF Grade

  8. Highest-graded Big Ten interior defensive linemen

  9. 2nd highest run defense grade among Power-5 interior defensive linemen and No. 1 in the Big Ten

  10. Fifth pass rush grade among Power-5 interior defensive linemen and No. 1 in the Big Ten


Okay, I know that was a lot of stats and numbers, so I’ll give you a chance to process that. But I wanted you all to grasp how excellent he truly is. Newton isn’t going to win with his overwhelming size, as he stands at just 6’2 and weighs around 295, He wins with his fantastic anticipation, quickness, and Play Recognition skills.  


Pair that with a motor that never seems to quit, and you’ve got a football player all 32 NFL teams will want on their roster. Newton’s Block shedding ability rivals anyone else in the class, as he is often seen disengaging with blockers in 1 on 1’s while keeping his eyes on the ball. His explosiveness off the line of scrimmage also makes him a force in the run game, as he consistently collapses the pocket and blows up plays behind the line for a loss.


I mentioned that Newton won’t win in the NFL with pure size, but Newton is very refined as a pass rusher and has a litany of moves that he relies on. He has a fantastic swim move and an NFL Caliber spin move. He possesses a great bull rush that collapses the pocket quickly and allows his teammates to have an easier route to the quarterback. He has a rare blend of power and agility allowing Newton to control the line of scrimmage effectively. He can overpower blockers or use finesse moves to get past them, making him a dual threat on the line.


WEAKNESSES


There aren’t too many weaknesses in Newton’s game that have shown themselves up until this point in his collegiate career. While Newton is an extremely stout run defender, I noticed that when the play is run in his direction, he tends to struggle. He is much more effective in stretch plays and tosses.


Newton also struggles against double teams, which is pretty understandable, to be honest. But Newton struggles to anchor against the double team and tends to get forced back. This is a slight cause for concern at the next level, but his first step explosiveness could make up for that sometimes. 


Lastly, Newton sometimes focuses a little too much on the backfield and forgets his gap assignments. This can create problems in the run game as the forgotten gap assignments can create running lanes and big gains. But to be fair, this didn’t pop up too often, perhaps it’s just a slight lapse in concentration. 


SCHEME FIT


Regarding a scheme fit for Jer’Zhan Newton, I can’t think of a better fit than in a 4-3 base as a 3-tech. He has the ideal pass-rushing ability to wreak real havoc from that alignment. I could also see Newton being an effective 5-tech in a 3-4, and potentially sliding over to a 0 in obvious 3rd and long pass-rushing situations. 


TEAM FITS

Here are some teams that I think could be looking to take Jer’Zhan Newton in the 2024 NFL Draft:


The Chicago Bears. The Bears still have one of the worst D-lines in the NFL. Even after drafting 2 Defensive tackles early on in the 2023 draft, D-Tackle is still a big need.


The Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals are surprisingly very competitive so far this season. They are still pretty ill-equipped to run a 4-3 under Gannon. Newton would instantly be the star of that defensive line. 


The Las Vegas Raiders. The Raiders would have one of the most dominant defensive lines in the NFL with Newton, Wilson, and Crosby.


The Buffalo Bills. This is a long shot, but the defensive line is a sneaky need for the Bills, Newton would be a welcomed young addition. 


Finally, The Houston Texans. Demeco Ryans coaching Newton would be ideal. Plus The Texans can continue to retool their defensive line. 


PRO COMPARISON

My Pro Comparison for Jer’Zhan Newton is Gerald McCoy. Newton has a similar Build and skill set to the 6-time pro bowler. McCoy was able to pair his explosive burst off the line with great play strength. McCoy was a dominant 3 tech next to a bigger defensive tackle in his prime. In the right situation, Newton can follow suit, and become a perennial Pro bowler. 


DRAFT PROJECTION


I think Jer’Zhan Newton should be the 1st or 2nd defensive player taken off the board. Elite interior defensive linemen that can rush the passer are very hard to come by. Newton possesses all the physical and mental tools to be an excellent player in the NFL, with the potential to be a perennial pro bowler or all-pro type of player. Jer’zhan Newton will be selected in the top 10 of the 2024 NFL Draft. 


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