Skip to main content

News | Washington Commanders -

Five things to know about Jer'Zhan Newton

MicrosoftTeams-image (28)

The Washington Commanders drafted Illinois defensive tackle Jer'Zhan Newton with the No. 26 overall pick. Here are five things to know about one of the team's newest defensive linemen.

1. He's the first player from his high school to be drafted in the second round.

Clearwater Central Catholic High School has a brief history of supplying the NFL with talent. Prior to this year, four players suited up for the Marauders before moving on to the professional ranks: Riley Cooper, Colin McCarthy, Jeff Smith and Amari Burney.

Newton bumps that list up to five players, and the defensive tackle was the highest drafted of the bunch.

There were already signs that Newton had a bright future in football. He recorded 244 tackles and 24 sacks during his high school career on top of contributing to the offense as a running back. As a senior, Newton grabbed 104 stop and 16 sacks, earning him All-American honors from MaxPreps and a slew of college offers as one of the best prospects in Florida.

Newton received interest from 19 schools but chose to play for the Illini in the Big Ten, an experience that he feels has set him up for success in the NFL.

"I know the Big Ten had a lot of offensive linemen that get drafted really highly. So, I feel like the competition there, you got to be physical to play in the Big Ten as well. So, for me to dominate in a very physical league, I feel like that shows my grit."

2. Football runs in the family.

Newton is part of a large family, and it shouldn't be a surprise that football is a big deal in their household.

Newton is one of five brothers. Three of them have already played at the collegiate level. Twins and older brothers Jervon Jr. and Jerquan played for Mars Hill at the Division II level. Jervon -- a running back -- rushed for 1,063 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior, while Jerquan -- a linebacker -- recorded 16 tackles.

Jerjuan, another older brother, played for the Toledo Rockets and is tied for ninth on the program's career touchdown reception list and caught 134 passes for 1,894 yards. His youngest brother, Jershuan, is listed as a three-star athlete by 247Sports.

Jer'Zhan and his brothers all love to compete, particularly with each other. They've loved football from an early age, and they often spent their days together by playing football in the street and training together.

"My dad raised us all to be close," Jerjuan said via ProFootballNetwork. "When we were younger, we would always fight, and he would be like, 'No fighting.' Whenever my brothers and I would fight, we would get in trouble and then he would make us hug it out. He always taught us that brothers don't fight, and now I'm big on that. I'm close with all my brothers. We all have that same bond with each other. I know I can call any one of my brothers at any time, and they will be there."

Check out the top photos of Illinois defensive tackle Jer'Zhan Newton, the Washington Commanders' first pick of Day 2 in the NFL draft.

3. He was a terror for quarterbacks.

Newton was ranked as the second-best defensive tackle on Mel Kiper Jr.'s big board, and there's an obvious why: he was a terror for quarterbacks in the Big Ten.

Newton racked up 43 total pressures in 2023, according to Pro Football Focus, which ranked third among all FBS defensive tackles. That played a role in him accounting for 103 pressures over his college career, which, according to his college bio on Illinois' roster, was the most among all defensive tackles.

And those pressures weren't just hurries. Newton was one of the most efficient interior defensive tackles when it came to taking down the quarterback, recording 18 sacks in four seasons. That total tied College Football Hall of Famer Moe Gardner for the most sacks by an Illinois defensive tackle.

Newton was one of the most utilized interior defenders in college football on pass plays last season, ranking second behind JMU's James Carpenter with 402 snaps. He was also a solid run defender, tying for ninth with 30 tackles on run plays with a stop rate of 7.4%. No matter how you look at it, Newton believes that he is "dominant."

"My football IQ is really high compared to other defensive linemen," Newton added. "I have a great pre-snap recognition. I know which plays coming at which down and distance, which formation brings which play. So, I just feel like my knowledge on the game is very high compared to other people."

4. He's almost universally recognized as a steal for the Commanders.

Head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Adam Peters were in shock when they saw Newton was still available at No. 36 overall. "I cannot believe you're still here," Peters told Newton on the call informing him that he would be a Commander.

So, Washington made sure to take him before anyone else got the chance. It was a decision that has been recognized as one of the team's best picks of the entire weekend, with many calling it a steal.

"The Commanders landed a steal in the early second round with Newton, who will be a factor in the run game while providing interior pressure," wrote's Chad Reuter.

The Commanders were nervous that he wasn't going to make it to them at No. 36 overall. He was a team captain who brought explosiveness and violence to his position at Illinois. To Peters, he was "exactly who we want to bring in this building." His production on the inside and outside made it an easy decision for them.

While not necessarily a need, most analysts love the move.

"This is a steal for the Commanders, getting a three-down defensive tackle with immediate pass rush upside," wrote SB Nation's Joseph Acosta. "I understand the foot injury concerns but he's such a dominant pass rusher that it makes so much sense for the Commanders to make this pick."

And many believe that Newton is going to impact the Commanders' defense right away.

"He's a playmaker at the defensive tackle position," said NFL Network's Michael Robinson. "He's not a guy that's just going to hold the point and just get in the way. He's going to shed an offensive tackle and still be able to make the play in the backfield."

5. He's healthy and ready to contribute.

Newton was noticeably absent from the on-field work at the combine in February. He suffered a Jones fracture in his foot, and the surgery prevented him from participating in Indianapolis.

The injury was a key topic of discussion when the Commanders first drafted him, but he brought some positive news to his Zoom press conference. He's fully healed and ready to go.

"The injury happened midseason, got surgery on it in January, healed up, fully healed, then I did a Pro Day back in Illinois and ever since then I've been ready to go," Newton said.

We'll never get any real answer as to whether Newton's injury caused him to slip out of the first round, although that is a common occurrence for talented prospects. Obviously, Newton is happy that he was drafted, but falling to Day 2 will "1,000%" is going to give him motivation in his career.

"A lot of people don't have this opportunity. Definitely [adds] fuel to my fire and a chip on my shoulder. But I mean, that was always [there]."

Related Content