Jer'Zhan Newton worth a reach for LA Rams amid Kobie Turner's changing role

Kobie Turner's potentially changing role for the LA Rams means the team can afford to reach for Illinois defensive tackle Jer'Zhan 'Johnny' Newton with the 19th pick in the 2024 NFL draft.
Illinois v Minnesota
Illinois v Minnesota / David Berding/GettyImages

The LA Rams face their first NFL season without All-Pro DT Aaron Donald on the roster for the first time in 10 seasons. That will take some time to adjust to what that means for this team.

Aaron Donald's retirement hasn't just left a gaping hole along the interior of the LA Rams' defensive line. It's also expanded the role for 2023 breakout star, nose tackle Kobie Turner, who will now be needed to line up in more spots than just over center.

Turner will need help to cope with an expanding workload and the extra attention he's bound to receive from teams no longer having to deal with Donald. It's with the help of a rookie prospect like Illinois defensive tackle Jer'Zhan 'Johnny' Newton that will make this work. That is if the Rams are bold enough to reach for him with the 19th overall pick in the 2024 NFL draft.

Turner's role set to change

NT Kobie Turner spent most of a truly special rookie season playing 0-technique, but Turner is ready to move all across the line in the post-Donald era. The second-year pro plans "to get as comfortable in 3 tech, 4, and even 5 as he got at nose last season," per Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic.

Turner is flexible and dynamic enough to wreck blocking schemes and create pressure from multiple spots. He can attack single gaps, split double teams and win from off the edge.

His range is something that newly hired defensive coordinator Chris Shula can take advantage of in creative ways. Moving Turner around to target weak blockers and take away favorite points of attack for offenses should be a core part of the Shula playbook. And that will also give new DL Coach Giff Smith an item on his 'To Do,' list as well.

Crafting an effective roving brief for Turner will be easier with a similarly disruptive lineman like Newton making an impact in the trenches.

Newton would help Rams in multiple ways

Newton is an impact player for the Rams DL. Standing 6-foot-2 and weighing 280 pounds gives Newton a Donald-like frame, and he will be given all the encouragement and coaching needed to optimize his rookie season.

Like the great No. 99, Newton has the low center of gravity and explosive first-step quickness to generate rapid pressure through the guard-tackle gaps. It's what he did on this brutal rep against Wisconsin, highlighted by Rodrigue's colleague Nate Tice.

Putting Newton in the D-tackle spot, moving Turner wider and aligning Bobby Brown III over center would give the Rams a versatile and imposing three-man front. That's just one way Newton could expand the ways Shula deploys his front-line personnel.

Another way would involve shifting Newton to the edge and letting him win around the corner. The role requires natural bend and closing speed, two traits Newton showed for this breathtaking sack highlighted by Bleacher Report's Ryan Fowler.

A third method for unleashing Newton would mean Shula trusting him as a classic, albeit undersized nose tackle. Think about former two-time All-Pro Jeremiah Ratliff as the template for how this would work.

The Rams don't run a traditional 3-4 front, so the lineman over the ball doesn't need to be a house-sized space-eater. Agility and a low center of gravity are more important, qualities Newton knows how to use for maximum effect.

Rams can justify reach for DT

Newton needn't be considered too much of a reach. Not when fellow defensive tackle Byron Murphy II is likely to be long gone before the Rams make their first pick.

Some recent mock drafts have Newton going in the early 20s range. He's the 23rd-overall pick for Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports, while Pro Football Focus has him going 21st.

The Rams could justify making their move a few picks earlier for a prospect who fits line coach Giff Smith's requirements. Yes, edge-rusher remains a need, but defensive tackles are paid at a premium in the modern game for a reason.

That reason was explained by The Athletic's Jacob Robinson and Dianna Russini:

"It’s a mix of elite players, changing schemes and recognized importance. Today’s pass-centric brand of NFL football has been accompanied by the growth of horizontal-stretch run games, which includes motion and jet sweeps.

An elite DT is athletic and strong enough to both stop the run while also offering consistent quarterback pressure: that becomes invaluable (think Chris Jones in the Super Bowl)."

Jacob Robinson and Dianna Russini

Pairing Turner with Newton would give the Rams two rising young stars in an increasingly valuable position. The Rams need to get tougher on the defensive front. Jer'Zhan Newton is one tough son-of-a-gun who can help get them there.