The 90 Illini #25: Jer'Zhan Newton


Robert
Aug 4, 2021
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This ranking is intentionally low. He's the only second-year player in the top-40 on my list (Reggie Love is next at 44), and honestly, I wanted to put Newton in the top 10. I believe he's a future NFL defensive lineman. But I have to always remind myself that Whitney Mercilus didn't start to have his breakout season until his third year, and didn't put together his All American season until his fourth (redshirt junior) year, so I need to be patient with guys like Jer'Zhan Newton.

So I specifically chose this spot (#25) just for him. The top-24 on this list each year should basically be the 11 starters on offense, the 11 starters on defense, the kicker, and the punter. So even though I think Newton is going to start, I put him one spot outside that top-24 just to keep my excitement level to a minimum. My list from here on will have 12 offensive players (two tight ends, three receivers), 10 defensive players, the kicker, and the punter. Newton is the 11th starter on defense, but I have to keep him outside the top-24 or else my brain will malfunction.

Really, I need to get one of those elementary school chalkboards and force myself to write this 100 times every morning:

It will be a few years before Jer'Zhan Newton dominates college football.
It will be a few years before Jer'Zhan Newton dominates college football.
It will be a few years before Jer'Zhan Newton dominates college football.
It will be a few years before Jer'Zhan Newton dominates college football.

25. Jer'Zhan Newton

Defensive Lineman
Uniform number: 94
Year in school: Freshman (without the Covid waiver, 4 years to play 3; with the Covid waiver, technically 5 years to play 4)
Height: 6'-2" -- Weight: 280 lbs.
Hometown: St. Petersburg, Florida
High School: Clearwater Central Catholic HS
Five best offers: Florida, Florida State, Miami, Iowa, Virginia Tech
Tom Cruise rating:

2020 statistics: Played in all 8 games, starting two as a true freshman. 23 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 forced fumble.

Background

Newton was a late flip in the 2020 class. He was committed to Maryland, but we flipped him right at the very end of the recruiting cycle. Perhaps even on signing day? I always thought the hype would have been bigger if he had committed to Florida or Florida State and then we flipped him from there. "Flipped from Maryland" didn't have the same juice.

You could tell from that point forward that the coaches believed Newton was the best player in the class. There's just a way that coaches talk about recruits (Lovie was like this with Nate Hobbs; Mike Phair was like this with Bobby Roundtree, RIP) where you can tell the coaches think they're headed for the NFL. He wasn't ranked very high in the Composite rankings (#1058 nationally, so in this class that would be somewhere between Matt Fries and Jordan Anderson), but the coaches immediately talked about Newton like they had landed a high four-star.

And then last year, he's the only true freshman in the regular rotation. He plays in all eight games, even starting two (which is rare for a true freshman defensive lineman, 2017 season notwithstanding). The Purdue game was where he really broke out. After that game, PFF had him as the highest-graded true freshman defensive player in the country for that week. When I see a freshman have a game like that (go back and watch that game - he's an animal), my governor-less expectations go through the roof.

2021 Outlook

It will be a few years before Jer'Zhan Newton dominates college football.
It will be a few years before Jer'Zhan Newton dominates college football.

OK, maybe "a year". This is just his second freshman year. It's a new scheme, and he'll have a completely different role than last year. I think this scheme will play to his strengths - I'm calling these positions RDE and LDE and they'll have half DE/half DT duties - but there's probably an adjustment period here. The target for Newton to be first team All Big Ten is his junior year (just like Whitney Mercilus).

AND THEN WE CONVINCE HIM TO COME BACK FOR A FIFTH YEAR WHERE HE WINS THE NAGURSKI.

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