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2024 NFL Draft: Illinois DL Johnny (Jer’Zhan) Newton scouting report

The 2024 scouting combine is right around the corner, which means that it’s time to take a more critical and detailed look at this year’s draft prospects. With that in mind, we here at Touchdown Wire are doing as many thumbnail scouting reports as possible before the combine gets going on February 29. We will of course be doing more comprehensive reports before the draft, but here’s a good starting point.

Next man up here is Illinois defensive lineman Johnny (Jer’Zhan) Newton, who now goes by a new first name, but the game is the same, and it’s pretty ridiculous. In 2023, his fourth year on the field with the Fighting Illini, Newton totaled eight sacks, seven quarterback hits, 28 quarterback hurries, 32 stops, and 33 solo tackles, At 6-foot-2 and 295 pounds (unofficial), Newton can disrupt just fine inside, but he also saw 25% of his snaps last season either over or outside the tackles, and he brings an interesting set of techniques to foil blockers on the edge.

Newton should be seen as among the best interior defensive linemen in this draft class, though he can do much more. He will not work out at the combine due to a Jones fracture in his foot — which he played through the second half of his junior season… which makes his 2023 tape all the more impressive.

PLUSES

— Capable of pressure from every gap; spends most of his time at 3-tech, but he’s a disruptor all over the place.

— Gets skinny through gaps like a running back would; gets it done with more than just pass-rush moves.

— Violent with his hands to push through blocks with ridiculous speed — Hits the edge with burst around the turn; can beat tackles with edge techniques.

— Can run multiple gaps at the snap and has good vision to penetrate.

MINUSES

— Size deficits (6-foot-2, 295) show up when he’s doubled and can’t break free.

— Slides will have him lost in the wash and trying to recover at times.

— Needs to be less upright off the snap more often; that’s where he loses leverage.

I’ve always had a bias for smaller defensive tackles who can move around. Newton could wind up being another one of those Geno Atkins-style agitators if he gets his leverage together and devises strategies to beat double teams. Overall, about as fun a player to watch as I’ve seen in this draft class.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire