The draft picks are official and history has been made. With Greg Newsome heading to the Land as one of two Northwestern players selected in the first round, InsideNU sat down with sports columnist Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com to discuss how Newsome will fit with his new team, why he was taken and more. In addition to covering the Browns, Lesmerises has covered the Ohio State Buckeyes for 16 years. You can follow him on Twitter @DougLesmerises.
Inside NU: Why did the Browns take Newsome in the first round?
Doug Lesmerises: I think a lot of us, by the time the draft started, had come around on the idea that they would very likely take a corner. They completely revamped their defense this offseason. They added two edge rushers. They added two defensive tackles. They signed a made up huge signing at safety. They signed a slot corner. They signed former Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker, who’s probably their starter in the middle. The last spot of the defense that felt like there was a hole was the second outside cornerback spot. They have Denzel Ward who’s a borderline Pro Bowler at one spot. Greedy Williams, who was their second round pick a couple years ago, he’s the guy who projects as the starter at the other outside corner spot opposite Ward, but he missed all of last season with a nerve issue and nobody knows for sure his health status. He’s supposed to be okay but behind him they had nobody. They needed someone else at outside corner, they couldn’t go in with only Ward and Williams. I think we all thought there were four top corners in the draft: Jaycee Horn, Patrick Surtain, Caleb Farley and Greg Newsome. Somebody else on our staff had projected Newsome at 26 to the Browns and I was like I don’t think he’s gonna be there. That’s the spot they needed to fill. They’re gonna have like nine out of 11 new defensive starters in 2021 compared to 2020. Newsome was also really good in zone for Northwestern, and Joe Woods — the defensive coordinator for the Browns — played a lot of zone last year. From that standpoint, what Newsome has done also fits how they want to play defense.
INU: To clarify, it looks like Newsome will be slotting in in the second or third outside corner spot on the depth chart?
Lesmerises: It’ll be a battle in camp between Greedy Williams and Newsome, one of those two has to start at outside corner. If the Browns did a depth chart tomorrow, they might put Williams ahead of Newsome, but it should be a battle in camp. If we are betting money on who’s starting outside corner week one, I would probably pick Newsome over Williams.
INU: What’s the word around the Browns organization regarding Newsome?
Lesmerises: I think they can’t believe he was there. Now, they said after the draft they thought there was a decent chance that he would be there. As you guys know, he’s such a clean prospect, the only thing is the availability. He did miss a decent amount of games at Northwestern. The Browns said they were not worried about that and Newsome, when he talked to us, he was just like “Man, I just had some bad luck.” They don’t think he’s injury prone. Overall, he is such a clean prospect: size, speed, they love his smarts and they love his attitude. He sort of won everybody in the Cleveland media over with his initial news conference. He’s so personable, and he seems like he’s gonna fit in the locker room so there’s a great deal of excitement about Newsome, both within the Browns and within the fan base.
INU: How does he fit into the Browns culture?
Lesmerises: The Browns have gone through so many front offices. They have gone through so many head coaches and they’ve gone through so much losing. Last year was the first year for Kevin Stefanski as head coach and Andrew Berry as GM. Berry talks about culture a lot and he seems to walk the walk. Same with Stefanski, they’re both very calm. They are very professional. I think a lot of the fans, and again the team, feel like they’re getting a professional, someone who’s serious about their business without a lot of fanfare. This is what Browns fans have been waiting for for two decades since the Browns left and came back; the franchise is finally getting its footing and they are legitimate Super Bowl contender. This is just a ravenous fan base that loves football and has not been rewarded, and it feels like it’s time for that to pay off. I think everybody feels like they got a player at 26 who probably was too good to be around at 26 and they got a little lucky that he was there. He’s got a lot of confidence, but he also seems serious about his business and I think that’s what the Browns feel like they are as a franchise right now. They feel like they’re an ascending franchise and they feel like they got an ascending player.
INU: What was the fan base’s immediately reaction to the Browns selecting Newsome?
Lesmerises: It’s a strange world because they’re so used to picking in the top 10, but it’s a very educated fan base and a very involved fan base, so they knew the Browns were looking at a corner. They also knew that the second outside corner spot was the one hole in the defense. There was some Rashod Bateman talk like if a great receiver falls, would they be in that market, because Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry are here this year but they’re both really expensive long term and they’re gonna need some receiver help. The moment the pick was in I wondered if they’d take the risk on Bateman. When Newsome got picked, they did the obvious smart thing and picked a corner when they needed a corner. It wasn’t Baker Mayfield, it wasn’t Myles Garrett, but at 26 I don’t know if any Browns fan didn’t like the pick. They were almost unanimous in saying, “I can’t believe this corner was here and he’s exactly what the Browns need.”
INU: How will Newsome’s overall college game translate to the NFL level?
Lesmerises: I’ve covered Ohio State football for 16 years, so I know Big Ten football, and that means knowing that there’s not a lot of great quarterbacks in the Big Ten. We were breaking down some numbers the other day and his coverage numbers were like the best in the Big Ten, but I do have to throw in every time something like that comes up that it was in the Big Ten. You didn’t even get to see a whole lot of Newsome against the one team in the Big Ten that can throw (Ohio State). The Browns seem to like productive guys from major conferences, so that does matter. In general, they would rather draft the guy who’s done it for two years and isn’t a flash in the pan guy who had one great year his first year as a starter. Newsome was productive on a team that won of the Big Ten West two of the last three years. We were watching a lot of film on a podcast the other day of him against Michigan State from 2019, and he was making a lot of good plays in that game — breaking on balls, not biting on double moves, fighting for the ball and knocking it down in the end zone. It’s impressive, but it’s Michigan State. Michigan State quarterbacks are the epitome of average. I don’t know who the best quarterbacks are that Greg Newsome has faced in his career, but it’s not Trevor Lawrence and it’s not Spencer Rattler [Okalahoma QB, projected No. 1 pick in 2022]. That doesn’t dissuade me from the pick and it doesn’t dissuade me from the fact that I think Newsome is gonna be good, but I think you have to factor that in.
INU: What does Greg Newsome have to do to be successful in the Browns organization?
Lesmerises: He needs to be good enough so that opposing offenses can’t pick on him if they’re trying to avoid Denzel Ward. The Browns revamped so much of their defense, they have a lot of guys around him that are going to make him look good. The pass rush should be legit, Myles [Garrett] got COVID last year and he wasn’t himself the second half of the year, but when he’s on, he’s about as good as anybody out there at getting to the quarterback. Overall, they don’t need a ton from Newsome. They just need to make sure they don’t have an obvious hole at that second corner spot and before they drafted him, it was possible that they did have that hole.