WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - SEPTEMBER 30: Illinois DT Jer'Zhan Newton (4) during a college football game between the Illinois Fighting Illini and Purdue Boilermakers on September 30, 2023 at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, IN.  (Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - SEPTEMBER 30: Illinois DT Jer'Zhan Newton (4) during a college football game between the Illinois Fighting Illini and Purdue Boilermakers on September 30, 2023 at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, IN. (Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Jer’Zhan Newton Dominates

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MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA – NOVEMBER 04: Jer’Zhan Newton #4 of the Illinois Fighting Illini readies for play against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the second half at Huntington Bank Stadium on November 04, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Fighting Illini defeated the Golden Gophers 27-26. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

There are a lot of words I can use to describe Illinois’ defensive tackle Jer’Zhan Newton:

Relentless

Tenacious

Focused

Strategic is another word I would use when talking about Newton. Illinois moved him all around on the line of scrimmage to make sure he got the chance to test everyone ⎯and test for vulnerabilities in offensive line personnel. This is the type of player opposing lineman have to be aware of on every single snap. This is the type of player NFL offensive coordinators will have to game plan for.

Pocket wrecker

CHAMPAIGN, IL – SEPTEMBER 22: Jer’Zhan Newton #4 of the Illinois Fighting Illini lays a hit on Preston Hutchinson #9 of the Chattanooga Mocs during the game at Memorial Stadium on September 22, 2022 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

The name of the game on defense is stop the pass ⎯get lockdown cornerbacks and guys who can light a fire in the pocket and put heat on the quarterback.

Newton is highly flammable.

He is always on ‘attack mode.’ Because of this he draws his share of double teams, but even then that’s not a lock to contain him because he fights that tandem like he’s in a cage match.

No off switch

Newton is a ball of energy with a lightning fast swim move and he’s got one thing and one thing only on his mind and that’s closing the deal. He’s quarterback minded.

Per Pro Football Focus this past season, Newton participated in 402 pass rushing plays and posted eight sacks, seven hits, 28 hurries and two batted passes.

Run stuffer

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN – SEPTEMBER 30: Illinois Fighting Illini defensive tackle Jer’Zhan Newton (4) runs in for a tackle during the college football game between the Purdue Boilermakers and Illinois Fighting Illini on September 29, 2023, at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Newtons’ efforts to stop the run were just as impressive. This isn’t one of those guys who’s taking plays off or one of those guys who’s going to be backhanding a paycheck. Nope.

Newton is a complete 3-down defender.

He’s a baller playing the run and he’ll stop at nothing to get to the ball carrier.

Run defense is where Newton’s raw brute power is on full display

Newton plays the run like it’s personal. He punishes ball carriers inside the box or he’ll chase it out to the sideline. It doesn’t matter, he has the will and he’ll find the way.

2023 run stats:

  • 52 tackles
  • 26 solo
  • 26 assists

Answers

When I walked away from Newton’s 2022 game film, I had four questions:

1. 2023 pressure and sack production? ✓

2. Level of consistency as a pass rusher? ✓

3. Can he make quick changes of direction?

4. Run defense numbers? ✓

Newton’s hurries decreased from 36 to 28, but his sacks doubled from four to eight. He was consistent getting after the quarterback. The same issue persisted of not being able to always make quick enough change of direction in the pocket and his tackles stayed about the same (59 in 2022 and 52 in 2023).

Three out of four boxes were checked for accountability purposes.

#4 Jer’Zhan Newton 6-foot-2, 304 pounds

Daniel Kelly’s 2024 NFL Draft Grade: First-Round (I would select him)

Projected by 86.9% of the NFL Draft Community to be a first-round pick as of March 26, 2024 (nflmockdraftdatabase.com)

Defensive Tackle Jer’Zhan Newton Makes his Presence Felt (5 games evaluated)

2023 game film reviewed: Wisconsin, Penn State, Toledo, and Kansas (click to view games watched to form this evaluation)

Newton Combine Numbers

2024 NFL Draft Scouting Report

Athletic active and cat-quick force of nature with a high compete level. Plays hard snap to whistle. He wants it. Strong at the point of attack. Equally distributed body mass and power. Uses hands well. Presses gaps hard. Additional slap and head fake pass rush moves shown. Crashes in like storm waves against rocks. Sudden. Good one-gear speed. Accelerates in short areas, but lacks that coveted short-area bolting burst. Closes hard. Excellent instincts. Battles run game blockers. Impressive wrapping tackler. Always in or around the action.

Final words

Newton is a difference-maker.

Daniel Kelly is a former NFL Scout with the New York Jets. He was hired on the regime which featured Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, Mike Tannenbaum, and Dick Haley. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief for First Round Mock, contributes at Yardbarker, and has written for Sports Illustrated Lions, Jets, and 49ers, as well as a featured guest on ESPN Radio and Fox Sports Radio. For more information about him visit his website at whateverittakesbook.com. Follow on Twitter @firstroundmock.

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