Devon Witherspoon CB Illinois
For certain prospects, you can tell the type of character they have based off the way they play the game. That is the case for Illinois cornerback, Devon Witherspoon. Born and raised in Pensacola, Florida; he is what people like to refer to as a “dog”. He plays with a certain level of confidence, swagger, and fearlessness that elevates the game of everybody around him. At Illinois, Witherspoon had over three year of starting experience including a first-team All-American senior season. He is widely considered the best corner in the draft and has risen up draft boards late in the process.
I try not to speak in hyperbole when writing draft reports, but I don’t think I have ever seen a more violent tackling corner than Devon Witherspoon. He is a risk-taker, but not reckless; a perfect combination of pursuit, strength, and explosion. He is not just a thumper, he wraps up and ensures that he is making the tackle. That means players are not bouncing off of him or gaining yards after contact; he stops players in their tracts and can be relied on to make tackles on the perimeter. As I mentioned earlier, there is a certain aura to Witherspoon; he celebrates with his teammates, talks shit, and radiates a confident bravado. He is competitive and plays with high effort; his style of play is infectious for the rest of his team. He has above average recovery speed, but excellent closing speed that allows him to play downhill and recover if he over pursues. When he plays with his butt to the sideline in a zone or read coverage, Witherspoon is at his best. Understanding body language is crucial for corners, and Witherspoon does a tremendous job at getting his eyes up and playing the football when it is in the air. His ball-skills are good, and he plays the receiver’s hands well. He is an intelligent player that has a good feel for when to jump routes and be aggressive. A team is going to love the position versatility that Witherspoon offers; he demonstrated the ability to follow receivers towards both the field and the boundary as well as lineup on the inside. The physicality, speed, versatility, and intelligence that Witherspoon offers are all traits that teams covet. He is going to be a day one starter and a player that lights the spark for the rest of the defense.
My biggest concern regarding Witherspoon is his lack of fluidity when opening up against routes at the second and third level. When having to change directions at a 45º angle, receivers are able to separate due to him having tighter hips. This leaves him susceptible to any variations of a post or corner route. While he does have above average recovery speed, his length is average which limits his ability to make plays on the ball if he gets beaten downfield. While he is a fiery player that plays fast downhill, there are times where he can play a little “too fast” and make premature contact with receivers. Witherspoon is a very good zone corner prospect, but I am nervous about his ability to play man coverage downfield. He is extremely aggressive which allows him to make crucial tackles and impactful hits, but could make him susceptible to double moves. While his violence and tackling ability are rare, an inability to play man coverage at all three levels will be attacked by opposing offensive coordinators in the NFL.
Witherspoon’s effervescent aggression and innate confidence are two traits that teams will undoubtedly desire come draft-day. I have a top 15 grade on him, but I do not see him falling outside of the top ten. He radiates the aura of a true number one corner that can follow receivers anywhere they go. The eye discipline, confidence, and tackling ability reminds me of Antoine Winfield Sr. When I think of team fits, the Lions feel like a match made in heaven. The aplomb and self-confidence that Witherspoon has when playing on an island or having to make a tackle in space matches the intensity of Dan Campbell and Aaron Glenn. If the Cardinals trade back or Witherspoon makes it to the Raiders, I believe he instantly makes those teams better as their number one corner. The energy that Witherspoon brings to the defense is going to be felt immediately, and I see him taking on a leadership role from day one.
Movement Ability (Hips + Feet): 11.25/14
Speed + Control: 10.25/12
Ball Skills: 10.5/12
Physicality + Aggression: 9.75/10
Instincts + Intelligence: 6.75/8
Poise + Confidence: 7.5/8
Pursuit + Competitiveness: 5.25/6
Length + Hand Usage: 4.75/6
Final Rating: 85
Pro Comparison: Antoine Winfield Sr.
Team Fits: Lions, Cardinals, Raiders
Draft Projection: Top 10 Pick
Draft Grade: Top 15 Pick