Washington Commanders select Illinois DL Johnny (Jer’zhan) Newton with the 36th overall pick. Grade: A+

Newton was my best defensive tackle in this class, and one of the defensive players. I know that some teams were worried about the Jones fracture in his foot, but he played through it last season and still destroyed just about every offensive lineman he faced. New Commanders head coach Dan Quinn is one of the NFL’s most creative minds in terms of defensive line deployment and scheme (Quinn’s Cowboys led the league in stunts last season), and this match of team and player had the potential to be absolutely incendiary. 

A three-star recruit from Clearwater Central High School in St. Petersburg, Florida, Jer’Zhan Newton (who has since changed his first name to Johnny) chose Illinois under head coach Lovie Smith over several other programs, and excelled under defensive coordinator Aaron Henry in a defense that has recently put a lot of talent in the NFL, including Seattle Seahawks 2023 first-round cornerback Devon Witherspoon and Philadelphia Eagles 2023 safety Sydney Brown.

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 did 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.


— 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.


— Size deficits (6′ 1⅝, 304) 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