Northwestern University’s Greg Newsome II started to get a little “nervous” and “impatient” Thursday night as he waited to be drafted. He considers himself the best cornerback in the class and expected to go higher.
His mood shifted when the Browns called to tell him he was the No. 26 pick in the NFL Draft.
“Where I should have went is Cleveland. This is the place that God has put me in, and this is exactly where I was supposed to fall,” Newsome said on a Zoom call from suburban Chicago. “Where do I think I should have went is Jacksonville at No. 1.”
Confidence isn’t an issue for Newsome, the 6-foot, 192-pounder who ran an unofficial 4.38-second 40-yard dash at his pro day in March and won’t turn 21 until May 18.
“The way I feel is if I am not the first pick of the draft, then everyone made a mistake,” he said.
Performance isn’t a problem, either. He allowed only 12 completions for 93 yards on 34 targets in 2020, good for a 31.7 opponent passer rating, the best of the corners in the draft.
“I take pride in that a lot,” he said. “I feel disrespected when a quarterback comes at me multiple times in a game. I feel like teams should not try me.”
General manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski said Newsome fit their profile of tough, smart and accountable. He also brings an edge.
“We definitely want guys who are intrinsically motivated, highly competitive and driven to be great,” Berry said after a long day that began with his wife, Brittan, giving birth at 8:10 to their third child, Eden Ruth.
Cornerback always made sense for the Browns in the first round. It’s a premium position in the pass-first NFL and presumptive starter Greedy Williams missed all of last season with a nerve injury in his shoulder. The question was whether one they coveted would last until No. 26.
— Northwestern Football (@NUFBFamily) April 30, 2021
Newsome was the fourth cornerback selected and the last of the perceived first tier. South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn went to the Panthers at No. 8 — the first defensive player taken — Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II to the Broncos at No. 9 and Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley to the Titans at No. 22.
Berry said he felt there’d be enough quality choices at No. 26 that he was comfortable “sweating it out” to see if Newsome would still be there. Berry said he got calls about trading up and down but stayed put and was able to get his guy.
“One of the things that appealed to us about Greg was that we thought he was one of the more well-rounded corners in the class,” Berry said. “Obviously he has the size and the speed that every team wants at the position, but here’s a guy that played press (man coverage) effectively. They played a heavy dose of zone and off-man at Northwestern, which he was able to do effectively and make some plays on the ball. And even then, he’s tough in run support.
“There wasn’t a major discernible hole within his skill set. He has a high level of competency across all areas that we value at that position.”
In three seasons — he’s the first true junior at Northwestern to enter the draft since running back Darnell Autry after the 1996 season — Newsome had 71 tackles, 25 passes defensed and an interception in 21 games. He led the Big Ten with 10 passes defensed in six games in 2020 and didn’t allow a touchdown, earning first-team all-conference honors.
Berry picked him over Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Georgia pass rusher Azeez Ojulari, Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau and receivers Rashod Bateman and Elijah Moore. Newsome fits in the defensive overhaul that’s been the theme of the offseason.
In free agency Berry signed safety John Johnson III, ends Jadeveon Clowney and Takk McKinley, nickelback Troy Hill, linebacker Anthony Walker and tackle Malik Jackson.
“It is a blessing to join a team like that,” Newsome said.
Berry said the pick wasn’t a statement about Williams’ recovery, which Stefanski said last week is going well. Williams, the No. 46 pick in 2019, welcomed Newsome on social media, as did quarterback Baker Mayfield.
“In terms of role, that’s really a decision of Kevin and the coaching staff,” Berry said. “Really this pick has no reflection or bearing on Greedy. From our perspective, cornerback is a group where we want to be deep and we want to have a lot of guys that can cover.
“So that has no reflection whatsoever on Greedy’s recovery or our faith in him.”
Newsome was looking forward to the competition among the secondary.
“All of those guys are studs, starting off with Denzel Ward,” he said of the No. 1 corner. “That is somebody I honestly mirror my game after a little bit. That is a guy who I love watching, and it will definitely be great to learn from a guy like him and a guy like Greedy.
“I am definitely going into a secondary that has a lot of swagger. I just can’t wait to play with those guys.”
Newsome missed time in each of his three seasons with injuries but said he was just “unlucky.” Berry said the Browns were comfortable with the medical reports.
“Look, he was a little bit banged up, but this is also a guy who started since his true freshman year,” he said. “Quite honestly, he is 20 years old on draft day so he is still really kind of growing into his body and growing into his frame. That is not something that we had major reservations, and more importantly, that is not something that our doctors had reservations about.”
Berry pointed to Newsome’s football IQ as another separator.
“It was really his intelligence and really just his mastery of the defensive system at Northwestern and not just his role but roles across the secondary,” he said. “He could really kind of walk through everything almost reflexively. That is something that certainly I found very impressive.”
“He fits culturally — being smart, tough and accountable,” Stefanski said. “He fits schematically. He has the body type to play man and to play zone. He makes plays on the ball. There are a lot of things about his game that we are really excited about.”
The Browns are next scheduled to pick at No. 59 in the second round Friday night. They also have Nos. 89 and 91 in the third round. Defensive end and receiver are expected to be among the targeted positions.