Greg Newsome is tired of being underrated, and he’s determined to do something about it.
Bringing the same relentless focus he displays on the field to the predraft process, Newsome opened a lot of eyes last month at Northwestern’s pro day. Among the highlights? A 4.39-second 40-yard dash and a 40-inch vertical leap.
Those numbers confirmed the rare athletic ability contained in the cornerback’s 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame and increased his chances of being a first-round pick on April 29.
None of which comes as a surprise to Newsome, who is confident he’s the best prospect at his position in this draft class.
“When a team drafts me, first of all, they’re gonna get the best corner in the country,” he told reporters at the Wildcats’ pro day March 9. “I don’t take that lightly. I know that I am the best, and the reason why I know that is I can do it all. I can play man. I can play zone. I can do it all literally.
“Even in our scheme, we’re more of a let guys catch the ball in front of us and rally and tackle and not give up the deep ball. But you can see the way I played this season I was not OK with letting guys catch the football, and I just think that a NFL when they see my versatility and see that I can do it all, I don’t see why I won’t be the first corner off the board.”
Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard has drafted a pair of corners – Quincy Wilson and Rock Ya-Sin – in the second round, but he’s yet to use a first-rounder on the position. If he intends to break that string this year, Newsome might be the best bet.
As he mentioned, he played in a scheme similar to Indianapolis’ at Northwestern – allowing receivers to make short catches underneath while taking away the big plays downfield. But Newsome wasn’t passive within that scheme.
He had just one career interception in 17 games with the Wildcats, but he broke up 20 passes. He’ll need to turn some of those deflections into turnovers at the next level, but he’s proven he can stick to receivers and shows potential as a true shut-down defender.
His length and speed make him a good fit for any defensive scheme, and he would immediately push Ya-Sin for playing time in Indianapolis. But the Colts could also be a good fit because the franchise can allow Newsome time to continue packing on weight.
Durability is a concern. He’s yet to play a full college season, appearing in eight games in 2019 and just three last year as a result of myriad injuries. The good news is none of the injuries have been major career-altering setbacks.
One of Newsome’s offseason goals during workouts at EXOS in Arizona has been adding bulk without sacrificing athleticism. He believes the work is going well, but the results won’t truly be tested until the NFL season begins in September.
On the field, there are few questions about Newsome’s game. He can be a little too physical at times and will have to limit the penalties at the pro level, and he sometimes flips his hips too soon and gets out of position. But he has the speed and instincts to quickly recover.
Even though he’s the first Northwestern player to declare for the NFL draft as junior since running back Darnell Autry in 1997, Newsome enrolled early and is an academic senior. His high intelligence shows up on the field with excellent diagnostic skills and comprehensive film study.
Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald is among the most respected college leaders, and he ranks Newsome among the best defensive backs he’s coached.
“He’s got a corner’s demeanor,” Fitzgerald told the Chicago Tribune in December. “He’s got a short memory, but he’s got a quick fuse. He’s got a high-compete motor and great mindset to go out there and take on great players.”
Newsome began his athletic career as a basketball player and had dreams of making it to the NBA. In sixth grade, his mother pulled him out of a summer basketball league and sent him to a 7-on-7 travel league. He says now that was the best decision she could have made.
Among Newsome’s greatest strengths is the ability to take away the deep ball. According to Pro Football Focus, he was targeted on passes of 20 yards or more seven times and never allowed a completion.
Of the 10 receptions he allowed in 2020, only one was for more than 10 yards downfield. It’s an area of the game Newsome takes pride in.
“I’m a very confident player,” he said. “I think if I eliminate those deep routes, I don’t think a team’s gonna beat us. So just knowing that and knowing where my help’s coming from and knowing that my guy on the other side of the field’s also doing his job, I don’t want to let the team down.”