Newton Named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year

Illinois Athletics Release

November 28, 2023

Johnny Newton courtesy Illinois Athletics

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois defensive tackle Jer'Zhan Newton was named the Nagurski-Woodson Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and the Smith-Brown Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, the Big Ten Conference announced Tuesday. Newton is the fourth Illini in history to earn the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award, joining Dana Howard (1993, 1994), Darrick Brownlow (1990), and Moe Gardner (1990).

One of the most disruptive players in the nation, Newton led Power-5 defensive tackles in quarterback pressures for the second straight season in 2023, according to PFF. His 44 pressures this season leads all Big Ten defensive tackles by 15, and he also led Big Ten defensive tackles in sacks with 7.5, which ranked second overall in the conference. Over the last two seasons, Newton has totaled 103 quarterback pressures, by far the most in the nation among defensive tackles.

Newton was the most durable defensive tackle in the nation this season. He led all defensive tackles in the nation with 749 snaps (62.4 per game), 73 more than the next closest Power-5 defensive tackle and 124 more than any other Big Ten interior defender.

Newton has also made an impact on special teams, leading the nation with an Illinois-record four blocked kicks. All four of Newton's blocks have come in Big Ten games: a field goal vs. Penn State (9/16/23), an extra point at Purdue (9/30/23), an extra point vs. Indiana (11/11/23), and a field goal at Iowa (11/18/23).

Two of Newton's biggest games came against two of Illinois' best opponents. He had seven pressures against Wisconsin, the fourth-most by any defensive tackle in the nation this season, and six pressures against #7 Penn State in Illinois' Big Ten opener. Newton was the highest-rated Power-5 defensive tackle in the nation during Week 3 vs. Penn State and Week 8 vs. Wisconsin (minimum 30 snaps), according to PFF. His 94.3 grade against Wisconsin was the highest by a Big Ten defender since 2019.

For the season, Newton totaled 52 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, nine quarterback hurries, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and four blocked kicks. In his four-year Illinois career, Newton had 188 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, and 18.0 sacks, which tied College Football Hall of Famer Moe Gardner for the most sacks by an Illinois defensive tackle in program history.

The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award is named in honor of Minnesota's Bronko Nagurski and Michigan's Charles Woodson.

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