Browns Film Room: Illinois DT Jer’Zhan Newton is best-kept secret in 2023 NFL Draft

It is never too early for 2023 NFL Draft content, especially for the Cleveland Browns who currently sit at 3-6 on the season. Fielding the worst defensive tackle room in the NFL by a healthy margin, this position remains at the top of the needs list for the Browns.

The top names like Georgia’s Jalen Carter and Clemson’s Bryan Bresee are going to be out of the reach of the Browns, who lack a first round pick. This leaves a guy like Alabama’s Byron Young square in the crosshairs of the Browns. There is, however, another big name who is flying under the radar in Illinois defensive tackle Jer’Zhan Newton.

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What the data says on Jer'Zhan Newton

Browns Jer'Zhan Newton 2023 NFL Draft
Browns Jer'Zhan Newton 2023 NFL Draft

Browns 2023 NFL Draft target Jer’Zhan Newton. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Before we dive into the tape of the best-kept secret in the 2023 NFL Draft, we first look at the numbers of Newton.

Starting with his box score, Newton is having a tremendous season for the Fighting Illini’s defense who is one of the more fun units in the entire nation. Thus far, Newton has racked up 12 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and 5.5 sacks on the year. He has racked up a massive 47 pressures this season, which sits him at second in the nation of all defensive tackles in college football.

Looking at his PFF metrics, only four defensive tackles, including a surefire top-10 pick in Jalen Carter of Georgia, have a higher defensive grade than Newton. He falls top-10 in both pass rush grade and run defense grade in the nation at defensive tackle according to PFF.

Needless to say, Newton has been one of the very best defensive tackles in the nation, and it shows on his tape.

Newton brings red hot motor, athleticism to 2023 NFL Draft

Newton is the definition of a player who plays with his hair on fire. From whistle to whistle, Newton works relentlessly to get to the quarterback or ball carrier. Again, the Illinois defensive tackle is not the biggest defensive tackle on the field, but his passion between the lines is evident.

One can see Newton chasing quarterbacks across the field and tracking ball carriers parallel down the line of scrimmage deep into plays. His explosiveness to close the gap between him and the man with the ball is eye-popping as well.

Defensive coordinators can count on Newton to pin his ears back every time he steps onto the field.

Newton displays the ability to build a strong pass rush plan

The quick-twitch of Newton is the most appealing aspect of his game. He uses his lower half extraordinarily well to set up his pass rush plans. Forcing a multitude of oversets and sinking blocker’s feet into mud, Newton is a slippery pass rusher who possesses the explosiveness to exploit the gaps he creates.

Newton also displays a pretty decent array of moves to deploy with his hands. He is not the longest guy in the world, limiting his leverage, but Newton is not afraid to get into the chest of the man across from him and drive him back into the quarterback.

He has a nasty swim move and a dynamic hand swipe to use to win as a pass rusher. For a defensive tackle who is listed at 295 pounds as well, Newton possesses a great deal of flexibility to win along the outside shoulder of the man across from him and play on the outside track.

A solid run defender despite his size

Again, Newton is not the biggest guy in the world, and his arm length matches. This allows Newton to get washed in the run game. HE has room to consistently control his pad level as well.

However, Newton possesses a natural center of gravity and is a hard man to move out of gaps when face-up with blockers. Going back to his motor, Newton is relentless as he works toward the football. He is not only in hot pursuit of ball carriers, but Newton is sound and disciplined in his assignments.

Newton is not only explosive and twitchy in his lower half, but he is built like a rock in his upper half as well. This allows Newton to get blockers out of his chest regardless of his arm length to keep his frame clean. Newton can play inside and out and has a pathway to be an immediate three-down player at the next level.

Final Thoughts on Jer'Zhan Newton and fit with the Browns

Browns 2023 NFL Draft Jer'Zhan Newton
Browns 2023 NFL Draft Jer'Zhan Newton

Browns 2023 NFL Draft target Jer’Zhan Newton. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Get to know him. Newton remains a relative secret to most of the draft community at this point but has all of the makings of a top-75 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Again, he is only a redshirt sophomore, so there is a chance he returns to Illinois for another season.

Sure, he is on the small side and will get killed for his arm length throughout the draft process. However, he is beating up Big Ten offensive lines, possesses extraordinary athleticism that covers any lack in size, and has shown he can still lock blockers out and win with explosiveness regardless.

Should he declare, he will test off the charts at the NFL Scouting Combine to match his production on the field. Newton is the best defensive tackle in the Big Ten, and by my eyes is DT4 in the entire 2023 NFL Draft class.

He already looks good in an orange helmet, why make him change that?

Story originally appeared on Browns Wire