Dolphins Prospect Profile of Illinois DL Jer’Zhan Newton

The Miami Dolphins lost defensive tackle and unit anchor Christian Wilkins to free agency this off-season. Chris Grier used his 2019 first-round draft pick on Wilkins, a year in which you can say his vision of a “rebuild” began. Entering year six of his construction, Grier opted to let Wilkins walk. Perhaps there is another cornerstone defensive tackle he can draft in the first round of the NFL Draft, less than three weeks away.

The Dolphins aren’t only losing Wilkins; they lost several pass-rushers and will not have their top two to start the 2024 season. Edge rushers Jaelan Phillips and Bradley Chubb are rehabbing their 2023 injuries. Entering Week 1, Miami has Zach Sieler on the interior and free agent Shaq Barrett on the edge. You can throw in another free agent add-in linebacker, Jordyn Brooks, but Miami needs more pass rush. Additionally, it would be a match made in heaven if the Dolphins could do their best to “replace” Wilkins. It won’t be easy, as Wilkins had a career year with 9 sacks, 30 pressures, 10 tackles for loss, and 14 quarterback hits.

Miami seems to be attempting to replace him with a team of defensive linemen at the moment. Over the last few weeks, they have signed several linemen, most recently Teair Tart, formerly of the Houston Texans. They also added Neville Gallimore, Daviyon Nixon, and Isaiah Mack and welcomed back Benito Jones. However, there likely isn’t a pairing for Sieler that could be called a true “replacement” for Wilkins yet. At pick 21, there may not be one available, but if Jer’Zhan Newton is available, he could be the closest thing.

Relative Athleticism Score (RAS)

While it would be fun to evaluate Kent Lee Platte’s RAS score for Newton, there is not one available. Newton didn’t work out at the NFL Combine or the Illinois Pro Day. However he possesses athleticism similar to Wilkins, but he is a tad undersized. Newton is 6’2” 304 versus Wilkins, who is 6’4” 310. Newton may not be as disruptive as Wilkins as a run-stopper, but does show promise as a potent pass-rusher in the pros. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in mobility and a repertoire of pass-rushing moves to shed blockers. He could be an immediate and consistent presence of quarterback pressure and even allow Zach Sieler more freedom.

Newton’s agility and outstanding hand technique can create a substantial pass rush from the interior. His versatility adds to his value as he could play all across the defensive line, but the sweet spot could be the 3-tech on the interior. Solid against the run, that size could be an issue against bigger-bodied offensive linemen in the pro.

Could Newton Replace Wilkins?

Regardless of the half-dozen defensive linemen brought in, Newton has top-tier talent. If names at certain positions are gone and Newton is available, Grier can make it a full-circle situation. Letting Wilkins walk to Las Vegas for $118 million, getting a third-round comp pick, and drafting his mini-version could be poetic.

Newton was a finalist for the 2023 Nagurski Trophy, given to the nation’s top defender. He recorded 7.5 sacks, 52 tackles, 8.5 for loss in 2023. Adding two pass breakups and a forced fumble. He even led the FBS with four blocked kicks. He was named First-Team Associated Press All-American and First-team All-Big Ten in 2023. Newtown was the Big Ten Conference Defensive Player of the Year as well. NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein compares Newton to eight-year veteran Javon Hargrave, who has 44.5 career sacks, an average of 5.5 a season. Also known as Johnny, Newton can be an instant starter and a key component for new defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver.