The 90 Illini #55: Jer'Zhan Newton
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This list is just a hot mess at this point. It's August 7th, there's a game in 27 days, and we're just now finding out that a bunch of names we thought would be on this list are not going to be football players at the University of Illinois. A few weeks ago I had to remove Ricky Smalling, Jake Cerny, and Ra'Von Bonner. This week we learned that James Knight and Dylan Wyatt (both already covered because they were ranked in the 60's) took medical scholarships (injuries prevented more football), juco transfer Lavar Gardner didn't make it, and Louisville transfer TreSean Smith chose to "decommit".
So there's seven names who have had to come off my list (Smalling, Cerny, Bonner, Knight, Wyatt, Gardner, Smith). Some we had already covered, but many were still upcoming on my list. I've been able to fill in with a few transfers (like Roderick Perry), but there's still two open spots and no players to choose from. So we're going to get to #19 on the list, which would have been TreSean Smith, and I'll have to name the twirler as the 19th most important Illini.
My only hope for filling every spot is that we find two more transfers before the season starts (maybe mining the FCS market for top-end players who can't play football this year and want to transfer up?). If not, I won't be able to fill every spot in The 90 Illini. I did do The 88 Illini one year (2011 I think), but it just didn't have the same ring to it.
55. Jer'Zhan Newton
Uniform number: 46
Year in school: True Freshman (5 years to play 4)
Height: 6'-2" -- Weight: 270 lbs.
Hometown: St. Petersburg, Florida
High School: Clearwater Central Catholic
Five best offers: Florida, Florida State, Miami, Iowa, Kentucky
Tom Cruise rating: 3.5 Cruises
That was a nice little recruiting run in December. Added Deuce Spann even after the late Auburn offer. Flipped Cooper Davis from Missouri. Flipped Tre'Von Riggins from Miami. And flipped Jer'Zahn (Johnny) Newton from Maryland. Really wish that would have carried over to the 2021 class.
They needed to add four defensive linemen and they did. Riggins and Quinton McCoy will likely be defensive tackles, Cooper Davis will likely be a defensive end, and Johnny Newton is a hybrid who could maybe play three of the four positions over his career.
I've had to constantly adjust the list with all of these transfers out/transfers in. When Ricky Smalling transferring out was announced, I move transfer Desmond Dan further up my list. So with the addition of Roderick Perry, I moved Newton down a few spots (and I did the same for Moses Okpala). Why did I put Newton above Okpala? On the off chance that they use Newton at strongside defensive end.
He's likely a defensive tackle, but strongside end is thin this year (seems like it's only a two-man rotation of Owen Carney and Keith Randolph at the moment). I'm not even sure who the third strongside end would be. Jamal Woods used to fill in there in a pinch, but it seems like he's grown into 100% defensive tackle at this point.
So it's possible that Newton takes the Woods path. Feet wet with some snaps at strongside end as a true freshman and then eventually make his way inside. And because of that, he's the highest-ranked true freshman on this list. Decent chance he doesn't redshirt and plays as a true frosh.