Los Angeles Rams 1st Round, NFL Draft Analyst Identifies Sleeper Defensive Line Prospect

Trevor Sikkema, Pro Football Focus NFL Draft Analyst, appeared on the Rams Skinny Podcast, revealing his top draft prospect for the Los Angeles Rams. While he agreed that getting UCLA edge rusher Laiatu Latu or Texas defensive lineman Byron Murphy would both be great additions, he named Illinois defensive lineman Jer’Zhan Newton as the sleeper candidate who is being underrated by the NFL.

“I think that he’s a top-10 player in this class. I think he should be picked somewhere in the top 12. I think he’s that good.” Sikkema said of Newton, “It doesn’t feel like the NFL is as hot on him as I am. Is he the, you never want to say Aaron Donald replacement, but is he the guy who’s going to be the next man up on the interior at that three-technique spot? Because I think he’s done a great job over the last two years at Illinois showcasing that he is a future pro.”

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Los Angeles Rams Top Draft Need

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Illinois
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Since Aaron Donald retired defensive line has become the biggest roster need, as Kobie Turner is now the only returning starter. The Rams struggled last season to get consistent pressure and now lost their top producer.

With 43 Newton led the Illini in pressure by almost double their next top producer. He finished tied for the second-most pressures in all of college football. Newton combined for 103 pressures over the last two seasons, the most by any FBS interior lineman. In addition, he finished with the 4th most run-stops. Two of his best games came against the biggest competition he faced. Against Penn State, he had seven pressures, and against Wisconsin, he had six.

His biggest concern is his size and length. At 6’1″ 305 lbs with a 76″, it puts him in the bottom 20 percentile of defensive linemen. That said, the same concern was leveled against Donald before he entered the league.

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Los Angeles Rams 1st Round, NFL Draft Analyst Identifies Sleeper Defensive Line Prospect 5

*Measurements provided by Mockdraftable.

Jer’Zhan Newton Best Fit In First Round?

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Illinois
Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Sikkema wrote of Newton in his most recent, 2024 NFL Draft Position Rankings: Interior defensive linemen article.

Newton has some physical limitations due to his size and lack of natural flexibility, but his hand usage, pass-rush tools and block-shedding ability allow him to be very productive in any alignment as a three-to-five-technique player.

The biggest difference between Newton and Murphy is a track record of high production at the collegiate level. Which is what set Donald apart from any potential replacements.

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