The process leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft is going to be a challenging one for NFL teams. Not only was the season abbreviated for much of the country and scouting visits curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the 2021 NFL Scouting Combine was cancelled out of caution.
While much of the media community loves the Combine for the displays of athleticism, it serves a very important purpose behind the scenes.
The Combine’s original purpose is as a clearing house for NFL teams to generate and share medical reports on the gathered prospects. Without those league-wide reports and cross-checks, some important context in scouting reports is going to be very different than any in recent memory. While that shouldn’t matter much for most top prospects, it could matter very much for players like Greg Newsome ii from Northwestern.
Newsome’s play on the field, and his positional value, rate a high draft pick — except for the fact that he also has a significant injury history. NFL teams are always hungry for starting caliber cornerbacks with Newsome’s traits, and the New York Giants could certainly use a player like him across from James Bradberry.
But in a year like 2021, will caution outweigh ambition?
Prospect: Greg Newsome ii
Games Watched: vs. Nebraska (2020), vs. Wisconsin (2020), vs. Illinois (2020)
Red Flags: Ankle (2018), Undisclosed injury (2019), Groin (2020)
Games Played: 21
Tackles For a loss: 1
Passes Defensed: 25
Games Played: 6
Tackles For a loss: 0
Passes Defensed: 10
Best: Length, quickness, agility, coverage ability, mental processing, versatility
Worst: Injury history, hand discipline, ball production
Projection: A starting outside cornerback with scheme versatility — Assuming he stays healthy.
Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome II has a very good combination of size and athleticism to play the position at the NFL level, as well as the versatility to play in a variety of coverage schemes.
Newsome aligned almost exclusively as an outside cornerback in Northwestern’s defense, but did play on both the left and right sides of the defense. He played in press man, off man, and zone coverages, showing comfort and upside in each coverage scheme.
Newsome has a quick, compact, and smooth backpedal in man coverage, with tight, balanced movements allowing easy change of direction at any time. He shows fluid, oily hips which allow him to open and flip his hips to transition from his backpedal to running with receivers with no wasted motion or loss of speed. He also has a quick transition from his backpedal to driving downhill on underneath routes or as a run defender.
Newsome shows very good awareness and understanding of passing concepts when in zone coverage. He is disciplined in picking up and passing off his assignments while being aware of what is going on around him on the field. Newsome reads the quarterback well, reacting quickly when a receiver in his zone is targeted.
He has a very good closing burst, using his length and quickness to quickly close receiving windows. Newsome is very good a playing receivers’ hands, with his length allowing him to knock the ball away from a variety of angles.
But while Newsome is very good at denying receptions and batting passes away, he has very limited ball production. He only has one reception in his collegiate career, coming this past year against Wisconsin. Newsome’s physicality in man coverage can work against him as well, as he can cross the line from physical press coverage to pass interference.
Teams will want to pay particular attention to Newsome’s medical reports. He has missed significant time throughout his college career due to injury. Through his three seasons at Northwestern, he missed nine games with an ankle injury as a freshman,four games with an undisclosed injury as a sophomore, and suffered a groin injury in the 2020 Big 10 championship.
Overall Grade: 6.5 - This prospect has considerable upside and starting caliber traits, but a significant injury history is reason for caution.
The projection for Greg Newsome II is a complicated one.
Based purely on his traits shown on film, he looks like a good starter and one of the better corners in this draft class. He has everything a modern NFL defense would look for in a starting cornerback, with great length and quickness, solid size, enough speed, and the versatility to play in any coverage scheme called. His lack of ball production and turnovers stick out, but his ability to deny receptions and defend passes at the catch point make up for that.
Newsome is an acceptable run defender for a cornerback (that is, he’s willing and isn’t a liability), who gives good effort in pursuit and generally tries to tackle with good form.
All of that is reason to be excited about him as a prospect.
But his injury history is a pretty major red flag. Multiple lower body injuries (ankle - 2018, groin - 2020), with an undisclosed injury in 2019 are a concern at any position, but particularly at corner. Because of those injuries and an abbreviated 2020 season, Newsome suffers from a small sample size which will complicate any evaluation.
Every team should be interested in a corner like Newsome, but every team will also need to do their own risk assessment. Do they have the depth to withstand a potential injury? How soon can they wager a pick on a player who could well be a boom/bust prospect?
Newsome’s tape is easy to fall in love with, but his risk factors could easily scare decision makers.