Why did Johnny Newton slide to the Commanders at No. 36 overall?

This worked in the Commanders' favor.
Johnny Newton
Johnny Newton / Todd Rosenberg/GettyImages

Johnny Newton's rapid descent out of his projected first-round status was seen as a can't-miss opportunity by those within the Washington Commanders draft room.

Adam Peters had the defensive lineman high enough on his board to shift course, taking the best prospect available regardless of need at No. 36 overall. It raised a few eyebrows, but the franchise was in no position to be turning down what they believed to be outstanding opportunities to enhance talent.

Newton comes into the league on the back of two exceptional college seasons at Illinois. Many believed the slide was thanks in no small part to the foot issues that look set to derail his early integration into Dan Quinn and Joe Whitt Jr.'s defensive system. But one analyst delved a little deeper with a broader perspective behind the player's surprising drop.

Commanders benefitted from Johnny Newton's draft slide

Charlie Campbell from Walter Football spoke to sources around the league regarding Newton's fall down the pecking order. While they acknowledged the injury concerns didn't help, they also revealed his lack of length and indifferent run-stopping capabilities made teams think twice about spending their high-end draft capital on the player.

"Early in the process, I reported some team sources viewed him more as a late first- or second-round player. As the draft neared, it seemed like Newton was rising again, as there were a lot of first-round projections from the big media. Newton in the end, however, slid to the second round. Team sources told WalterFootball.com that Newton slid over a combination of factors. First, teams viewed him as more of a second-rounder who might sneak into Round 1. Second, while Newton showed some interior rush ability on tape, he also had some hit-and-miss moments as a run defender. Some sources said Newton wasn’t a fit for them because he is short and lacks length. Newton also ended the 2023 last season with a foot injury, and being restricted in workouts never helps a prospect. All of those factors combined to have Newton slide into Round 2."

The Commanders had no problems with Newton and saw him as an integral piece of their long-term plans. Bringing him along gradually is also a luxury they have after resisting the temptation to trade Jonathan Allen this offseason. His skill set looks tailor-made for Quinn and Whitt's scheme, which relies on generating pressure and athletic players capable of causing havoc from differing alignments.

These concerns that cost Newton draft standing and money should serve as extra motivation to prove people wrong. The league is full of players who had supposed red flags during the evaluations and have flourished since. The lineman will be looking for the same once he's healthy enough to get back into football-related activities.

There is a lot to like about the physical traits Newton brings to the table. He's explosive, closes space incredibly quickly for a man his size, and boasts the natural power to shed blocks effortlessly in pursuit of the opposing quarterback. There is some fine-tuning needed, but this is a solid foundation from which to build under Quinn's accomplished coaching staff.

Newton wasn't the only prospect to be taken lower than most media projections. He might feel slighted to some degree, but everything happens for a reason. In truth, this is one of the best landing spots he could have ended up with top-level coaches and two outstanding veteran role models in Allen and Daron Payne to learn from.

If the Commanders get what they think is possible from Newton, a lot of NFL teams will be kicking themselves in the coming years.