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Meet the Prospect: Jer'Zhan Newton 

Name: Jer'Zhan Newton

Position: DT

School: Illinois

Ht/Wt: 6-2, 304

40-yard dash: Did not run

Bench: Did not bench

Vertical: Did not jump

Broad: Did not jump

3-cone: Did not run

20-yard shuttle: Did not run

View photos of NFL prospect Jer'Zhan Newton.

How he fits: Newton didn't take part in Combine testing or Illinois' pro day as he was recovering from offseason foot surgery but is hoping to test for NFL personnel sometime before the NFL Draft later this month.

Newton is an athletic and powerful interior defender who made his living playing in the opponent's backfield the last few years at Illinois. Newton tied for the national lead in QB pressures among interior defenders last season with 44, according to Pro Football Focus. That was 15 more pressures than any other interior defender in the Big Ten last season.

The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and finalist for the Nagurski Trophy (nation's top defender), Newton led Illinois with 7.5 sacks. He also led all of FBS football with a school-record four blocked kicks. He played in 12 games with 52 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss. Newton finished his Illini career with 27.5 tackles for loss and 18.0 sacks, which is terrific production from the interior.

The Lions signed DJ Reader to a two-year contract in free agency and also return Alim McNeill, but McNeill is on the last year of his rookie contract, though the Lions could re-sign him. Second-year player Brodric Martin is hoping to take a big leap in development in Year 2.

Newton is certainly a player at the back end of the first round who could interest the Lions. His size and length don't jump off the page, but he consistently finds a way to win against bigger opponents with his speed, technique, and film study. He's a really smart player and runs like an edge rusher. He could immediately find time in Detroit's defensive line rotation inside.

Key observations: Newton was the fourth Illini player in history to earn the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award and the first in 29 years. He was the only defensive tackle on the Nagurski finalist list. Newton's 18.0 career sacks tied College Football Hall of Famer Moe Gardner for the most sacks by an Illinois defensive tackle in program history.

What they had to say about him: "Newton is one of the better DT prospects in the 2024 NFL draft class. He has an outstanding body of work from the 2022 and 2023 seasons. Newton has a compact and muscular build that belies exceptional quickness and burst off the ball. He uses active, sudden, and violent hands to defeat interior offensive linemen and press both outside and inside gaps. He has light, quick feet, always splaying on his toes.

"Newton's game is built on athletic quickness more than power, and he would project and transition best to the next level as a 1-gap penetrating DT with the traits to be both a strong run defender and inside pass rusher. His size, body type and athletic traits fit the profile of the shorter three-technique DT in a four-man defensive front much in the way Geno Atkins, Grady Jarrett or Ed Oliver did. Newton will come into the NFL with better pass rush tape than those players had in college." - Greg Cosell, senior producer at NFL Films

View photos of the top edge rusher prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft.

How he stacks up: NFL media analyst Daniel Jeremiah released his latest Top 50 players in the 2024 NFL Draft last week and Newton came in at No. 32, with Jeremiah calling him a "very skilled rusher [who] holds up versus the run." The Athletic's Dane Brugler lists Newton as his No. 30 prospect in his ranking of the Top 100 players available in this class.

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. lists Newton as the No. 5 defensive tackle prospect in the class behind Byron Murphy II (Texas), Braden Fiske (Florida State), T'Vondre Sweat (Texas) and Kris Jenkins (Michigan).

ESPN insider Field Yates just updated his Top 50 players in the draft last week and Newton comes in at No. 35.

Matt Miller of ESPN has him as his No. 34 prospect and ESPN analyst Jordan Reid is pretty high on Newton, listing him as his No. 23 overall prospect. Reid likes Newton's defensive pressure rate (11.4 percent) and the fact that he played 715 snaps last year, seventh most among FBS defensive linemen. analyst Bucky Brooks lists Newton as his No. 1 defensive tackle available in this draft.

What he had to say: "I played running back in high school, so I feel like that footwork transitioned to defensive line," Newton said at the Combine. "I know my speed can take me a long way. First step, getting off the ball quick and attacking the offensive lineman, I feel like I can make a lot of trouble like that."

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