We all know that the Illinois football team has a special player on its hands with Jer’Zhan “Johnny” Newton.
Since Bret Bielema took over the Illini, the program has had a resurgence. Putting up an eight-win campaign in 2022 was unthinkable if you watched the program in the multiple years prior to Bielema taking over.
A big part of this eight-win campaign was the talent on the defensive side of the ball. Players like Sydney Brown and Devon Witherspoon helped in the second, but they have now departed the program for the NFL. Thankfully, Illinois still has some monsters up front. One of the big names to keep an eye on is Newton.
Illinois football defensive lineman Jer’Zhan Newton is ready to solidify himself as one of the best in college football
Newton is coming off a 2022 campaign where he earned near-unanimous All-American second-team honors. He was also voted onto the All-Big Ten first team by both coaches and media. Newton earned these honors after amassing 62.0 tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 3.0 pass deflections, and 2.0 fumble recoveries.
Despite probably being a top-three-round NFL Draft pick in 2023, Newton returned to Illinois for one more go. He wanted to win on the field again, and his return will also give him a chance to boost his draft stock.
Newton enters the 2023 season as a preseason All-American first-team player, and he is widely looked at as one of the best, if not the best, defensive tackles in the country.
On Friday, Pro Football Focus released a list of the top 50 players in college football. The No. 1 player on the list is, obviously, USC’s quarterback, Caleb Williams. He is projected to be the first overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft by just about every outlet.
I feel like just a couple of years ago, Illinois wouldn’t have had anyone on the list of the top 50 college football players. We probably wouldn’t have had anyone even sniffing this list. But now we do.
If you scroll down just a little bit further, you will find Newton checking in as the No. 8 overall player in all of college football. Let that sink in for a moment. I know Illinois has a great player in Newton, but the fact we have a top 10 player in the college game is pretty cool.
The season is on the horizon, as we are now within a month of the Toledo game. Not only do Illinois fans have a reason to be excited about the potential of the program winning, but we have one of the best players in the game. Let’s enjoy what we are watching.