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30-Day, 30 Prospects: Day 3- Fighting Illini Cornerback Devon Witherspoon

Devon Witherspoon, an average-sized Cornerback from the University of Illinois, has way more than meets the eye, displaying a cerebral, ball-hawking, physical approach to the game. In 2021, Witherspoon stacked the stat sheet with 52 tackles and 8 tackles for loss, which is exceptional for a cornerback. His reputation of being one of the most physical corners was solidified when he added 9 pass breakups this season. In 2022, Witherspoon continued his rising trajectory, earning All-American, and Big-10 Defensive Back of the Year honors with 17 passes defensed, 41 tackles (2.5 TFLs) and 3INTs. 

Witherspoon can be considered as the closest thing to a shutdown corner, earning a 34.9% completion rate in 2022, according to PFF. He is a heat-seeker, as he flawlessly zeros in on receivers hands on deep balls and rallies to the ball with  box safety-like intensity during run plays. He also shows great route recognition and instinct, stifling offenses with 14 pass breakups in 2022. In off-man coverage, his eyes are very active, placing himself in the right position on a play-by-play basis.

Witherspoon’s top end speed might be an issue at the NFL level, as he’s been often shown to get beat by speedy receiver’s initial jab-steps. As a result, he tends to get handsy after the 5-yard threshold. Additionally, due to his aggressiveness, he tends to bite on play action fakes, while lacking the speed to make up the distance when initially beaten by a receiver. 

All in all, Witherspoon’s physicality and IQ makes up for his shortcomings, and could be considered an excellent option under the correct scheme. Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham would place Witherspoon in a great position, highlighting his strengths with the Cover 3/Cover 6 scheme on early downs. On obvious passing downs, Witherspoon can use more of his strengths of anticipating and route recognition under Graham. 

If the Raiders do select Witherspoon, it would be ideal to select him after a possible trade back, as it would be a bit of a reach to acquire him at #7. However, if the Raiders brass absolutely love Witherspoon to where they do select him at #7, I can stand behind this move with a solid deal of confidence. Stay tuned.

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