Could Johnny Newton Be the Lions’ Future Defensive Tackle?

The Detroit Lions faced significant depth challenges on the defensive line during the 2023 season. Alim McNeill was having a breakthrough year until a knee injury sidelined him for four weeks, forcing the Lions to rely on other interior players. Even before McNeill’s injury, the Lions struggled to find a consistent rotation, experimenting with Benito Jones, Isaiah Buggs, and Levi Onwuzurike. With McNeill out, the pressure to find effective production increased.

To address these issues, the Lions could use young talent in the defensive tackle position. While Brodric Martin is expected to take on a larger role, his profile as a traditional nose tackle limits versatility. Therefore, adding a prospect capable of playing various techniques would be advantageous. Among the standout defensive linemen in the 2024 Draft is Illinois’ Jer’Zhan ‘Johnny’ Newton, who appears to be a good fit for Aaron Glenn’s defensive scheme. Newton met with the Lions at the NFL Combine and received positive feedback after his media session.

Although Newton didn’t participate in the Combine due to a Jones fracture, he is expected to showcase his abilities at Illinois’ Pro Day. His skill set aligns well with the Lions’ needs, as evidenced by his impressive collegiate stats, including 18 sacks and 27.5 tackles for loss over four seasons. Newton demonstrates quickness off the line and versatility in pass-rushing techniques, making him a promising prospect.

While the Lions await a definitive evaluation of Onwuzurike, injuries have hampered his progress since being drafted in 2021. With uncertainty surrounding Onwuzurike and the potential departure of Tyson Alualu in free agency, Newton could vie for a starting role immediately. Although he struggled against double teams in college, Newton’s ability to pressure quarterbacks addresses a key weakness in Detroit’s defense.

While Newton may not be available at the Lions’ first selection, his value could align with their needs if he falls later in the draft. His potential impact, both culturally and schematically, suggests that he could be a valuable addition to the Lions’ roster.

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