Johnny Newton Scouting Report
By Charlie Campbell
- Dangerous interior rusher
- Quick first-step
- Fast at the point of attack
- Thick build
- Can physically dominate offensive linemen
- Plays with a disruptive presence
- Quick at the point of attack
- Splash plays
- Natural pad level
- Skilled at shedding blocks
- Can get destroyed as a run defender
- Has plays were he is bulled out of his gap
- Inconsistent motor
- Disappears at times during games
- Funny body
- Could have real problems with NFL mass
- Lacks height
- Lacks length
- Boom/bust uncertainty
Former Illini head coach Lovie Smith is a disciple of the Tampa 2 defense and legendary defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. One of premium position for the Tampa 2 scheme is a three-technique defensive tackle who can generate an interior pass rush. That position was made famous in the NFL by Hall of Famer Warren Sapp, and many Tampa 2 disciples are always on the lookout for a quick inside rusher. Hence, Jer’Zhan ‘Johnny’ Newton was a recruiting target for Smith. He then successfully landed the three-star recruit out of St. Petersburg, Florida.
Newton made his debut in the Covid-shortened 2020 season, recording 1.5 sacks, 23 tackles, one forced fumble and 1.5 tackles for a loss. He then made his presence felt in 2021, totaling three sacks, four tackles for a loss and 50 tackles. Newton was even better in 2022, notching 5.5 sacks, 14 tackles for a loss, 62 tackles, 11 quarterback hurries and two fumble recoveries. In 2023, he recorded 52 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 8.5 tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and two passes broken up.
Newton is an impressive pass rusher. He possesses athleticism and twitch at the point of attack, showing a burst to fire his gap. With his developed strength and active hands, Newton can slap hands off of him before using his speed to dart past blockers. He has a real burst to close, and there is no doubt that he is a fast interior rusher. Newton has fluid hips to slide away from blockers and dart into openings to get after the quarterback. While Newton has a stocky build, he can really run fast for his size. As a pro, Newton has the potential to be an excellent interior pass rusher who produces some quality sack numbers while contributing a number of hits, pressures and hurries that could help set up his edge rushers to get sacks as well.
As for the ground game, Newton looked better in 2022 than he did in 2023. In his final season, he was worse, but there were times in both years when he was absolutely destroyed by offensive linemen. There were plays on which he was pushed out of his gap and pushed around the field.
Newton demonstrates an inconsistent motor as well, and he played with more steady effort in 2022. Perhaps he was protecting himself and trying to avoid injury in his final collegiate season, but NFL team sources said they felt Newton’s 2023 tape was not as good as that of 2022.
There are some traits that could make Newton more of a mid- to late first-rounder or a second-round pick, rather than being a top-10 talent. At 6-foot-2, 295 pounds, Newton has a short, stocky, sawed-off build. Franchises that want more height and length in their defensive linemen will shy away from Newton. NFL team sources who watched Newton in person said “he feels short, thick, wide, kind-of-funny build.” Some teams are said to think Newton has boom/bust potential for the NFL.
Newton could be a dangerous interior pass rusher in the NFL. If he improves his run defense and plays with a steady motor, he has the potential to be a good pro starter.
Justin Madubuike/Marvin Austin. Newton is somewhat reminiscent of Madubuike coming out of Texas A&M. They both are quick interior rushers with athleticism and a boxy build. Madubuike was a better run defender, and character issues caused him to slide in his draft class. NFL team sources labelled Madubuike as a positive comparison for Newton, but if Newton doesn’t work hard and plays with an inconsistent motor, he could end up being a bust like Austin. If Newton works hard and pans out, he could be a dangerous interior pass rusher akin to Madubuike.