As the saying goes, "hindsight is 20/20." I guess when it comes to the Colts drafting of Jonathan Newsome in the fifth round, you can say that as we look back on it now, it makes the move seem 20 times better. Ok, I know that's kind of a lame lede, but with the suspension of Robert Mathis for the first four games of the 2014 season, it's a harsh reminder to Colts fans that number 98 won't keep playing forever. While at 33 years old he still has a few seasons left in him, the reality that the Colts will be forced to play the first four games of the 2014 season without their best defensive player is a reminder that life after Mathis is coming sooner than anyone would like. And, given the fact that the pass rush outside of Robert Mathis last year was inconsistent and bad, it's wise to begin looking at options at the position now.
The Colts spent their first round pick last season on a pass rusher, Bjoern Werner, and while the hopes are still high that he can develop into a good pass rusher (he showed improvement as the season went on last year), it was a wise move for the Colts to add another pass rusher in this year's draft - which they did. The Colts took outside linebacker Jonathan Newsome in the fifth round in hopes that he can eventually develop into a solid player.
The comparisons are a good start, as several (including Bill Polian) made the comparison to Robert Mathis for Newsome, and he embraced it. That doesn't mean he's as talented as Mathis, simply that the skill-set is similar. And for a fifth round pick, there's not much there not to like with this move.
Newsome started out his college career at Ohio State, where he saw limited time his freshman year (playing in just 5 games and making only 5 tackles). He played in all 13 games his second season (making 15 tackles and a blocked kick), but he struggled with academics and that resulted in him missing spring practice in 2011 and he transferred to Ball State (because of both academic and legal issues). He redshirted in his first year at Ball State but in 2012 he had a break-out season, playing in 11 games and notching 52 tackles (12.5 for loss) and 8.5 sacks. He continued his success in 2013, playing in 12 games and recording 64 tackles (11.5 for loss) and 8 sacks while picking off a pass and forcing two fumbles. Newsome will be moving to outside linebacker in the Colts hybrid 3-4 scheme and will serve as a pass rusher to begin with. He has tremendous burst off the snap and can blow by linemen in that area. He has a good bull rush but also has moves to get to the quarterback - in short, he's a good pass rusher with a lot of upside in that area. He also has big upside overall, as he's a raw player in terms of setting the edge and some things like that (though he looked good in coverage at Ball State when asked to do so). He's not the strongest player either and so that can be a weakness, and of course with the history of Newsome maturity and off-the-field issues are a concern. He has shown improved maturity since transferring to Ball State, however, and the Colts have a strong locker room providing a good environment for him to come to. Plus, for a fifth round pick, you can afford to take chances like that on players with the upside of Newsome.
At the time he was drafted, it seemed unlikely that Jonathan Newsome would see that significant of playing time this season because of the fact that Robert Mathis, Erik Walden, Bjoern Werner, and perhaps some others were likely ahead of him on the depth chart. Now, however, since Mathis will miss the first four games, the Colts will be looking for anyone who can provide pass rush help to contribute right away. That is undoubtedly Newsome's strength and I wouldn't be surprised to see him get a few snaps as the Colts use a bit of a rotation to try to replace Mathis as best as possible.
We have to be careful not to expect to much out of Jonathan Newsome too early. After all, he is a fifth round pick who has work to do. Just because there is now a bigger need shouldn't increase our expectations for him, only perhaps increase his chances to exceed them. But I love the upside Newsome brings for a fifth round pick and I like his pass rushing skills. I'm excited to see him work in training camp and get a better idea of what his role will be this season and whether he shows the promise many hope he has to contribute in the future as well.
Quick Summary: Jonathan Newsome:
Weight: 247 pounds
College: Ball State (transferred from Ohio State)
Drafted: Fifth round (166th overall)
Statistical Resume: 23 games played (at Ball State), 116 total tackles; 24 tackles for loss; 3 passes defensed; 16.5 total sacks
Contract: 4-years, $2,398,108 ($178,108 signing bonus), $464,527 cap hit in 2014 (via Spotrac)
Pros: Very good pass rush skills; has good upside; fills a need; good value in the fifth round
Cons: still a bit raw setting the edge; not the strongest player; some off-the-field and maturity concerns
Twitter: none (that I could find)