The Good: I’m not sure any player has rocketed up draft boards over the past 365 days like Devon Witherspoon, and it’s for plenty of good reasons. Witherspoon has some of the most fun tape in this class independent of position: he wants to win battles vs WRs at the line of scrimmage, is psychotic in pursuit, and lays the wood for a CB. In coverage, Witherspoon is a sticky man coverage CB who hangs in the hip pockets of wideouts. He has quick action, both in his feet and hips, so he’s great at mirroring. Witherspoon has good ball skills; his breaks on the ball are sudden and he’s advanced at turning his head to play the ball at the last moment. He’s a smart player who showed an advanced understanding of his defense, and he’s athletic enough to recover and avoid getting badly burned.
The Bad: While it feels unfair to hold someone’s high school ratings against them, especially after they became All-Americans in college like Witherspoon, I do think it’s important to note that Witherspoon was a zero-star recruit because his traits remain subpar for a likely Round 1 player. Witherspoon did run his 40 in a respectable time in the mid-4.4’s range at his Pro Day, but he avoided all other testing and his measurables are low across the board: weight is 10th percentile, wingspan is 18th percentile, hand size is 25th percentile. The NFL Draft history of highly drafted CBs with that lack of size and without gamebreaking speed is extremely scarce, so Witherspoon is an outlier. On the field, he’s definitely not a perfect prospect either. His recognition is regularly late so he’s typically just not very good in zone coverages. In man coverage, he can get himself into trouble by jumping routes and he can get turned around in off man coverage too. He’s extremely physical which leads to risky coverage and a good deal of potentially penalized plays. Witherspoon is an excellent tackler for a CB, but he can be too aggressive in run defense and sometimes he doesn’t take good angles at ball carriers.
The Bottom Line: Don’t get it wrong: Witherspoon is a good prospect. I just wish he had the narrative of one that fans would hope their team snags towards the end of Round 1, not one who’s presumably gone by the Top 10. Typically with the drawn out process of NFL Draft evaluation, we collectively put personal affection for players’ tape aside and compromise with historical trends and athletic testing metrics…but that hasn’t really happened for Witherspoon yet so it might not happen at all. Also, more attention is usually given to advantageous surroundings for certain players. Maybe it’s because Witherspoon went to Illinois so we subconsciously give him a pass, but the entire Fighting Illini secondary from 2021-2022 are going to be Top 100 picks in the Draft, and Illinois’ coaching staff put them in positions to succeed. Clearly I’m keeping my guard up when it comes to Witherspoon, but I do have a fair amount of confidence that he’ll be a good player in the NFL. He has true inside/outside versatility, is clearly as mentally tough as they come at CB, and put some true high-level play on tape as a senior – he starred against Michigan. I don’t think a team that drafts Witherspoon with a lottery pick is necessarily going to get burnt by it, but he is different from CBs who typically go in that range.
Grade: Late First Round / Early Second Round
Pro Comp: Tracy Porter
- Nebraska 2021
- Wyoming 2022
- Virginia 2022
- Minnesota 2022
- Michigan 2022