While the quarterback position remains the most popularly targeted one in the first-round of various mock drafts, the New England Patriots selling the farm to get one of the top-five guys aboard seems like an unrealistic projection. While there is a chance that a passer falls into their range at No. 15, fans should also prepare for seeing the Patriots leave Day 1 of this month’s draft with no passer added.
But even if that happens, there is a chance New England will add some high-quality talent to its roster at another position of need. Among them is the cornerback spot, where the team appears set heading into 2020 but some long-term options might have to be added sooner rather than later. One of those possible options is Northwestern’s Greg Newsome.
Name: Greg Newsome II
School: Northwestern (Junior)
Opening day age: 21
2020 stats: 6 games (6 starts); 12 tackles; 34 targets, 12 receptions, 93 yards, 1 interception, 10 pass breakups
Size: 6000, 192 lbs, 73 3/4 wingspan, 31 1/8 arm, 8 7/8 hand
Workout numbers: 4.38 40-yard dash, 40 vertical jump, 10’3” broad jump, 4.26 short shuttle, 6.90 3-cone drill, 18 bench press reps
Expected round: Mid-to-late 1st
Patriots pre-draft meeting: Virtual meeting
Strengths: The first thing that stands out when looking at Newsome is his change-of-direction skills. He is a fluid athlete with the lower-body flexibility and hip quickness to shadow receivers on all types of routes, and play in every imaginable coverage scheme (he saw both man and zone looks at Northwestern). His efficient feet and play awareness in combination with natural instincts make him an elite cornerback prospect in this year’s class, and a high-upside player.
Newsome’s length is prototypical at the outside cornerback position, and he has shown how to use it. He has a knack for finding the ball — he has broken up 25 passes in just 21 career games — and has proven himself a competitive player at the catch point. He knows how to use his arms against physical receivers, and has the awareness to force incompletions even as pass catchers get their hands on the ball.
Weaknesses: Durability is a concern with Newsome given that he missed 14 games over three seasons, including three due to a groin injury in 2020. He has a somewhat slighter build and will need to add some strength to be competitive in press-man coverage — something he hardly did at Northwestern — and in run situations versus NFL-caliber competition. His ability to get off blocks once engaged is not yet where it needs to be.
Newsome also needs to get better at turning his pass breakups into turnovers. While he got his hands on 26 passes during his career, only one of those resulted in an actual interception. Furthermore, his aggressiveness sometimes puts him out of position; he can be susceptible to double-moves or pivot routes when going against offenses that know how to take advantage. His level of competition also is a question mark compared to other cornerbacks in this year’s draft class, even though he did look like he was supposed to.
Why the Patriots? As noted above, New England needs some long-term help at the cornerback position. While Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson are a solid one-two group on the outside, neither of them is currently under contract beyond 2021. With at least one of them leaving as a realistic chance, bringing a player of Newsome’s developmental upside into the equation would make a lot of sense. He could sit for a year behind those two before taking on a starting role next season.
Why not the Patriots? New England is running an aggressive man coverage scheme, and Newsome has more experience as a zone cornerback. While that alone is not a disqualifier, other first-round-caliber players are more ready-made to play in the Patriots’ scheme. That does not mean he won’t be able to reach the same levels as Jaycee Horn or Patrick Surtain, but those two appear to be safer projections from that perspective based on how they were used in college and the success they had while playing press-man.
What would be his role in New England in 2021? Unless Stephon Gilmore gets traded or J.C. Jackson signed away as a restricted free agent, the Patriots will head into the 2021 season with those two as the undisputed starters at the perimeter cornerback spots. Newsome would therefore be playing second fiddle as a rookie, while learning the intricacies of New England’s scheme and the techniques the team plays.
What would be his role in New England beyond 2021? If the Patriots select Newsome later this month, it would all but guarantee that at least one of Gilmore and Jackson will not be back next year. In that case, he would be asked to take over a starting role on the outside. Depending on his development and how much the team trusts him in this role, he would be a realistic candidate to serve as the next CB1 and regularly go up against opponents’ top wide receivers.
Does he have positional versatility? Newsome played 387 defensive snaps last season, with 91 percent of them coming as a perimeter cornerback. His skillset would suggest he could work in the slot as well, but the expectation is that he will continue to play primarily on the outside at the next level.
What is his special teams value? The Patriots rarely use their number one cornerback on special teams, but until he reaches that status Newsome could certainly see some kicking game snaps. While not a four-unit coverage player, New England might use him as an edge pressure player on punts — similar to how the team employed J.C. Jackson in the past.
Which current Patriots will he have to beat out? Newsome would be guaranteed a roster spot if drafted by New England, but he would have to compete for regular playing time behind the starting duo. The youngster would be the favorite to emerge victoriously, but he would still have to prove himself against the likes of Joejuan Williams, Myles Bryant, D’Angelo Ross, Michael Jackson, Dee Virgin and maybe even Jalen Mills if the Patriots opt to use the free agency acquisition in such a fashion.
Verdict: While Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain appear to be better fits for the Patriots at first glance, Newsome’s skillset allows him to be scheme-versatile — something the team values very much. Add his room for growth despite an already high floor and you get a player who could certainly be a target for New England late on Day 1 if the team does not go in another direction with its first-rounder (*cough* quarterback *cough*).