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Newton Could Be the Steal of the Draft | WASHINGTON COMMANDERS ROOKIE SERIES


Written By Adam Aniba


Commander's new GM Adam Peters shocked Washington fans with their choice for the 36th overall selection, during last week's NFL Draft.


Many fans were left scratching their heads with the selection of Illinois defensive tackle Zer'Zhan Newton, known as Johnny to his friends, family and teammates. The fact of the matter is that Newton was ranked as a Top 15 prospect by many evaluators.


His draft slide was believed to be due to his January Jones fracture surgery, but stated during the NFL Combine that he's "Fully Healed" from the surgery and ready to go.


Jer'Zhan Newton

6'2" 304 lbs | DT | Illinois

2nd Round 36th Overall

Career (80 Games)- 187 TAK (107 solo), 27.5 TFL, 18 SACKS, 5 PD, 3 FF & 2 FR

'23 Stats (12 Games)- 52 TAK (26 solo), 8.5 TFL, 7.5 SACKS, 2 PD, 1 FF, 1 FR & 4 Blocked KICKS

Background

Newton grew up in St. Petersburg, FL and attended Clearwater Central Catholic High School. Newton played football and basketball during his time at Clearwater Central.


The defensive lineman registered 104 tackles, 16.0 sacks, 29.5 tackles for a loss, 3 forced fumbles as a senior. Newton finished his career with 244 tackles, 24 sacks, 45 tackles for a loss and 5 forced fumbles.


His efforts led to him being named a MaxPreps All-American in 2019, along with being named a 3 star recruit by ESPN and Rivals


After being ranked as the 86th overall prospect in the nation by ESPN, Newton received attention from multiple Power 5 schools. After an aggressive recruiting process Newton elected to commit to the University of Illinois.

As a freshman in 2020 Newton was active in 8 games registering 23 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, 1 forced fumble. The Illinois defenisve tackle was the highest rated freshman defender (85.8) by PFF, after his performance vs Purdue in which he recorded his first career forced fumble.


Fast forward to 2022 in which Newton (13 games) was an integral part of the nation's top scoring defense. On the season he recorded 14 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, 11 QB hurries and 2 fumble recoveries.


Newton added 4 blocked kicks, which is unheard of for an interior lineman.

In 2023 Newton was nearly impossible to contain. He finished the season with 52 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, nine quarterback hurries, 1 forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and four blocked kick on the season.


Newton was recognized for his play in '23 by being named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, Nagurski Trophy finalist (Only defensive lineman finalist list) Bednarik Award semifinalist and Outland Trophy semifinalist,

Thor Nystrom of @Fantasypros, who's been a guest on the podcast a few times had the following to say about Newton.

"He's very unorthodox, fun kind of twitchy, agile 3-technique. He is uber aggressive"

PROS

  • Burst off the snap allows him to get the upper hand on would be blockers

  • Advanced counters with powerful hands

  • An impressive athlete who displays the ability to chase down athletic QBs/ball carriers from behind

  • A movable chess piece that can play anywhere along the offensive line

  • Attacks the A/B/C gaps with ferocity displaying the ability to effectively shed blocks

CONS

  • Occasionally washed out vs the run when taking on double teams

  • Needs to be more aware of gap integrity vs the run and play with more scheme discipline

  • Can be overzealous by jumping the snap count, which led to untimely penalties

  • Lack of length can be a determinate at times when rushing from the outside, as he allows blockers get under his pads

  • Can be overaggressive at times leading to tackling whiffs


2024 Outlook

Newton displays the type of ferocity and non stop motor that should bode well for him in DQ's/Whitt's defense.


There has been chatter that HC Dan Quinn along with DC Joe Whitt Jr. could utilize a 3-4 base look with DaRon Payne, Jon Allen and Newton.


Regardless it's believed Newton will have a significant role this season and could be viewed three years from now as the steal of the 2024 NFL Draft.


GAMES WATCHED

9/8/23 vs Kansas 9/16 vs PSU, 10/21 vs Wisc, 11/11 vs Indiana & 11/25 vs N.Western

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