Jer’Zhan “Johnny” Newton’s Draft Profile | Illinois, DT Scouting Report

Is Illinois' Johnny Newton the top DT prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft? He's a unique, unorthodox mold, but his scouting report shows promise.

Across the consensus, the matter of the top defensive tackle prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft is inconclusive, but with his scouting report, Illinois’ Jer’Zhan “Johnny” Newton presents a compelling case. What made Newton so productive in college, and can he sustain that production in the NFL?

Johnny Newton’s Draft Profile and Measurements

  • Height: 6’1 5/8″
  • Weight: 304 pounds
  • Length: 32 3/8″
  • Wingspan: 75 7/8″
  • Hand: 9 1/2″
  • Position: Defensive Tackle
  • School: Illinois
  • Current Year: Redshirt Junior

If there’s one thing Newton knows how to do, it’s produce.

As a high school senior at Clearwater Central Catholic High School, Newton had 16 sacks, 29.5 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles.

In his first two seasons at Illinois, Newton combined for 73 tackles and five sacks. And in a standout 2022 campaign that earned him first-team All-American honors, Newton logged 62 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 14 TFLs, and three pass breakups.

The 2023 season brought more of the same for Newton. Alongside his teammate Keith Randolph Jr., Newton notched a career-high in sacks with 7.5 and also recorded 8.5 TFLs, two pass breakups, and a forced fumble.

But production is just one piece of the puzzle for 2024 NFL Draft prospects. For Newton, is the film in lockstep with the numbers? As his scouting report shows, the Fighting Illini star has the traits to carry over his impact to the professional stage.

Newton’s Scouting Report

Strengths

  • Has excellent natural leverage, proportional length, and universal alignment versatility.
  • Explosive, high-energy athlete who can invade gaps with his spry mobility and zeal.
  • Firework out of his stance who can instantly correct his leverage and alignment.
  • Hyper-elite torso flexibility allows him to peel and seep his way through anchors.
  • Has the bend to rush from 5- and 7-tech, using high-end ankle flexion and hand usage.
  • Slippery rusher who processes blocking angles and combo blocks startlingly quickly.
  • Constant leverage mismatch, capitalizing with superb feel and weight distribution.
  • Comes off the line with red-hot energy and doesn’t relent into contact, fighting through.
  • Has enough power to generate initial balance-eroding shock on push-pull moves.
  • Has the core and grip strength to stack, shed, and control blocks, funneling runners.
  • Surgical, high IQ one-gapper who wins with well-executed clubs, chops, and rips.
  • Can pry past arms with precise cross-chop-rip combos, using bend to veer through gaps.
  • Hands are always active and violent, even through second and third attempts.
  • Can throw blockers aside after baiting them into overextending and then flow to the ball.
  • Shows off exceptional athleticism and pursuit speed for his size in space.

Weaknesses

  • Despite natural leverage and length combination, is below-average size overall.
  • With non-elite mass, can be more easily gathered by double-teams and combo blocks.
  • Middling length puts a cap on maximum power capacity and torque on extensions.
  • Hands don’t have elite knockback force at contact and can’t always create movement.
  • At times lacks the strength and mass to control blocks while working across-face.
  • Lack of elite length sometimes impedes his ability to finish as a tackler in gap pursuit.
  • Occasionally jumps the snap prematurely, drawing penalties.

Current Draft Projection and Summary

Newton grades out as a top-15 prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft. On my board, he’s the top DT prospect in the class, ranked over Texas’ Byron Murphy II. Particularly for odd and hybrid-front teams, Newton presents exciting appeal and can be an impact starter fairly early in his career.

At around 6’2″, 304 pounds, with middling length, Newton won’t fit the size threshold for certain roles. He can shade over 0-tech and 1-tech when he has more space to work from NASCAR packages, but overall, he’s best at 3-tech and outside.

Naturally, Newton’s lack of mass can be a problem against double-teams, and he can be displaced by combo blocks.

Still, Newton is a surgical disruptor in both run defense and pass defense, whose hyper-elite flexibility serves as a defining and dominating trait. With his combined burst, flexibility, hand strength, and angle awareness, he’s an unnaturally permeable force against run blocks, who can also stack, shed, and one-gap at a high level.

Meanwhile, as a pass rusher, Newton has the combined athleticism, hand precision, violence in his strikes, bend, and motor to menace the QB from a multitude of alignments.

As mentioned above, Newton’s size does bring some schematic limitations. He’s probably best utilized as a 3-tech or 4i alongside a nose tackle who can encumber blockers, isolating Newton with 1-on-1 opportunities. However, Newton’s ability to shade outside to 5-tech and 7-tech gives him added utility in hybrid fronts.

KEEP READING: Top DTs in the 2024 NFL Draft

Overall, Newton is a versatile two-phase disruptor whose penchant for production should only persist in the NFL. He bears a lot of similarities to former five-time Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro DT Jurrell Casey, and he has the same kind of all-league upside.

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