Name: Devon Witherspoon
Weight: 181 pounds
Combine Results: Did not participate due to a hamstring injury
Devon Witherspoon seemingly came out of nowhere this past season to emerge as a prime contender for the top cornerback in the draft. That isn’t exactly a surprise, as Witherspoon has been coming out of nowhere for a while now.
Growing up in Florida, Witherspoon didn’t start playing football until his junior year of high school. This was after previously playing basketball and track for his high school. As a result, Witherspoon committed (as a zero star recruit, no less) to play football for a community college in Kansas. Illinois came in at the last minute and offered him, securing what proved to be an exceptional talent.
Witherspoon was thrown into the fire right away and he did nothing but produce. Witherspoon showed improvement year over year, despite having a head coaching change halfway through his time there. Now, he’s well positioned to be a very high draft pick.
Man Coverage: Witherspoon thrives in man coverage. In fact, no other corner in this draft class played more man than Witherspoon, and he more than held his own: Witherspoon had the third best completion rate allowed and the best passer rating allowed in man coverage. He’s naturally sticky and does a great job of being physical with receivers without crossing the line into penalty trouble.
Zone Coverage: Witherspoon was no slump in zone coverage, holding up well in those assignments. He’s got good eyes and processing skills to fare well in zone, but it’s so obvious that Witherspoon is at his best in man coverage. That’s why his defensive coordinator, now the head coach at Purdue Ryan Walters, used him in man at such a high rate.
Playmaking Ability: Witherspoon has natural ball skills, and does a great job at affecting the ball in a variety of ways. He recorded 23 pass breakups in the last two years, which is incredible, and picked off three passes in 2022. He’s not an interception machine like Trevon Diggs, but Witherspoon is getting his hands on the ball one way or another.
Athleticism: There isn’t anything about Witherspoon’s tape that screams elite athlete, but it also doesn’t appear to be an issue on the field either. He didn’t test at the combine, so it’s hard to get a feel for just how athletic he is. Witherspoon’s tape doesn’t suggest it’s an issue, but some teams will harbor concerns unless they know his actual numbers.
Run Support: The thing that separates Witherspoon from all the other great cover corners in this draft is his physicality in run support. He plays with a linebacker mentality in run defense, and has the tackling fundamentals to back it up. While this is hardly the most important quality for a corner, it’s rare to see one as eager about tackling as Witherspoon, and it makes him stand out.
Processing: Witherspoon has a very natural feel for the game, and he’s especially adept at reading receivers’ route patterns and anticipating their moves. He shouldn’t have a problem adjusting to an NFL defense going forward.
Intangibles: Penalties have been a problem off and on for Witherspoon, whether it’s being overly physical or making small mistakes here and there. Some have shared concerns about Witherspoon’s penalties increasing in the NFL, where corners have less leeway in coverage. That will need to be weighed when considering Witherspoon’s ability to make an immediate impact.