Greg Newsome II received one of the toughest challenges of his rookie season Monday against the Steelers.
Newsome, the 26th overall pick of the 2021 draft, primarily lined up against Steelers second-year veteran WR Chase Claypool, who's 6-foot-4 and a key playmaker in the Steelers' pass attack. Newsome is 6-feet and has embraced matchups against the top receivers from opposing teams all season, and he treated Monday night against Claypool no differently.
The Browns didn't win the primetime matchup, but Newsome certainly won his battle — Claypool was targeted nine times from QB Ben Roethlisberger but only caught three passes for 17 yards, tied for his second-lowest total of his season.
Two of those passes were deflected by Newsome, who's ending his rookie season with the kind of confidence the Browns hoped to see when they drafted him from Northwestern. He's already become the reliable cornerback the Browns can count on against anyone, and it's come as a result of Newsome embracing every matchup from his 11 games in his first NFL season.
"Going against a guy like that is fun, a bigger guy who I know they will throw a lot of jump balls to," Newsome said. "He's not going to run too many comebacks or things like that. He's going to run a lot of fades and slants. You just have to be physical right with him and can't back down from him."
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Newsome has lived up to his promise stated minutes after he was drafted — he wasn’t backing down from anything as a rookie. He's cherished all the critique the Browns have given him since the offseason and has done everything necessary to not only prepare for a big role as an outside corner, but even learn how to hold his own in the slot, where he's also played a handful of snaps this season.
All of that work has translated into nine pass breakups and 34 tackles in 10 starts that Newsome has viewed as an opportunity to get better, while still proving to Browns coaches he deserves to be on the field for nearly every snap.
"He played throughout the season with some really good receivers and made some plays against them," defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. "He's a guy who is going to be here for a long time and give us a lot of good play outside at corner and inside in the slot."
Newsome acknowledged Thursday he hasn't added a tally in one crucial category for a defensive back: interceptions. That was one of the lone blemishes Newsome also carried out his senior year, when he led the Big Ten with 10 pass breakups in 2020 but didn't record an interception, yet he still established himself as a top-tier defensive back with his ability to lock onto receivers and create incompletions.
He's achieved the same type of success in 2021, albeit still without a pick. Newsome, just as he did when he discussed the topic after his senior season, smiled when he acknowledged it and expressed his faith that the interceptions would eventually be delivered.
"I've talked to Denzel about it, like 'Man, I feel like it's just not coming,'" he said. "(Ward) said, 'It will come eventually.'"
Might it come on Sunday in the Browns' final game of the regular season? Newsome was targeted heavily in the previous game against the Bengals and swatted three passes — a season-high — against talented receivers in Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins.
More targets are sure to come Newsome's way Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, and he's preparing to end the year on a strong note by using them all to once again prove his lock-down abilities.
"It would be amazing to end the year with an interception," he said, "or maybe a few interceptions, if I can."