Player Spotlight: Illinois DT Jer’Zhan Newton


Jer’Zhan Newton

College: Illinois

Age: 21

Position: Defensive Tackle

Height/Weight: 6’1″/310 pounds

40-yard dash time: 5.00

Illinois Jer’Zhan (Johnny) Newton has been on the radar of NFL scouts for the past two seasons. He has been mentioned as one of the best defenders in the country by many who follow college football. But is the hype surrounding him justified? Let’s dissect his game and find out.

Newton arrived at Illinois as a three-star recruit, and he’s smashed the expectations placed upon him. Standing at 6’1″ and weighing in at only 310 pounds, he’s not quite a menacing physical presence on the defensive line. But where he does shine is his great athleticism and play recognition abilities. Newton has the potential to be a game-changing force in the NFL.


-The first thing that stands out when you watch Newton is his explosion at the snap. His quick first step and burst off the line of scrimmage are the stuff of nightmares for opposing offensive linemen. He disrupts plays right from the snap, forcing linemen to shade help to his side.

-Newton is very refined as a pass rusher and has a litany of moves that he relies on. He has a fantastic swim move that is his bread and butter. 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.

-Newton’s athleticism makes him a versatile asset. He can fit seamlessly into various defensive schemes and can sub as a defensive end in certain packages. He allows you to be able to get your best four or five best pass rushers on the field due to his ability to line up in multiple spots.

-Newton’s ability to read plays and react quickly sets him apart. He understands offensive schemes and disrupts plays before they develop.


-While Newton is a good run defender when chasing down ball carriers on plays like stretches and tosses, he can struggle when plays are run right at him. If he gets doubled, he can struggle to anchor and tends to give up too much ground.

-Like many young players, Newton occasionally focuses too much on the backfield, losing sight of his assigned gap responsibilities. This can lead to missed tackles and issues in run defense.

The Verdict

Jer’Zhan Newton is undeniably an exciting prospect with the potential to dominate in the NFL. His combination of speed, hand usage, and good football IQ make him a standout player in the 2024 NFL Draft class. However, like any young talent, there are areas for growth. Newton’s lapses in run defense and his need to improve against double teams should be areas of focus as he continues to develop.

If Newton can refine his game and address these concerns, he will easily be the top defensive tackle taken in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Pro Comparison: Gerald McCoy

Newton has a very similar playstyle to former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Gerald McCoy. The former six-time pro bowler had an unreal burst and was a fantastic interior pass rusher. However, he did struggle a bit to hold up at the point of attack and he usually benefited by playing next to a bigger defensive tackle. Newton has all of the physical tools to become a similar player to McCoy and be a dominant three-technique defensive tackle at the NFL level.

Draft Projection: Early First Round