Illinois Fighting Illini cornerback Devon Witherspoon is regarded as one of, if not the best, player at his position in the 2023 NFL Draft. A bit of a late riser, Witherspoon has really impressed NFL scouts by having a superb senior season. Now, he’s seemingly emerged above a very talented crop of cornerbacks.
There isn’t one specific aspect of Witherspoon’s game that screams top-ten pick. He’s not the tallest, nor is he the quickest. Yet, the 22-year-old got the job done with consistency during his college career, receiving coaching from Lovie Smith from 2019 to 2020.
After seeing the floor all four seasons with the Fighting Illini, now Witherspoon’s ready for the next level. But what makes Witherspoon potentially the top cornerback in the draft class? We’ll break down his prospect profile, highlighting his strengths and weaknesses below.
Devon Witherspoon measurables
- Devon Witherspoon height: 5-foot-11 1/2″
- Devon Witherspoon weight: 181 pounds
- Devon Witherspoon 40 time: N/A
Let’s dive into our Devon Witherspoon scouting report and NFL projection.
Devon Witherspoon stats and background
Pro Football Focus is a huge fan of Devon Witherspoon’s game. They said Witherspoon had “one of the best seasons” they’ve ever graded from a college cornerback. Targeted 63 times, Witherspoon allowed just 22 receptions for 206 yards while coming away with three interceptions.
Amazingly, Witherspoon didn’t even start playing football until his junior year of high school. By the end of his senior year, Witherspoon was named Defensive Player of the Year by the Pensacola News Journal.
Related: 2023 NFL defense rankings
This late surge was enough to get Witherspoon a chance to continue his football career, committing to the University of Illinois. It didn’t take long for coaches to realize his potential where he made 13 appearances as a freshman, even starting three games. By the end of his college career, Witherspoon was named a consensus All-American for his outstanding play while also being named a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to college football’s top defensive back.
|Devon Witherspoon stats||Tackles||Interceptions||Pass deflections|
While his stats may suggest he’s not a ballhawk, he also didn’t get a lot of opportunities to make a play during his senior year either. Coming away with three interceptions on just 63 targets is still impressive, especially considering he didn’t allow a single touchdown. You couldn’t ask for a better way to close out his college career.
Devon Witherspoon scouting report
Teams looking for a shutdown cornerback should look no further than Devon Witherspoon. After allowing just 3.3 yards per target in 2022, Witherspoon deserves to have his own island named after him.
A very competitive player who isn’t afraid to be physical both at the point of attack or when leveling ball carriers, Witherspoon absolutely has the mentality of a defender. He also has a strong nose for the football, where his high football IQ comes into play.
While we love to see the physicality from the cornerback position, Witherspoon’s generating a lot of buzz thanks to being one of the stickiest defenders in coverage in the draft class. Even if his opponent gets a step on him, Witherspoon usually isn’t far behind, giving him a chance to break up another pass, which he’s quite good at.
It’s incredible to think a player who didn’t start playing football until his junior year in high school can be this good in coverage. Imagine how much more room for growth there may be? Even if Witherspoon is somehow already near his ceiling at just 22, he still has a lot of fun traits to work with.
If Witherspoon does bite too aggressively, he lacks the elite closing speed to make up for significant mistakes. We didn’t see too many errors during his senior season, but that could change against top-notch athletes.
One area, if any, where Witherspoon could improve is being less handsy after jamming receivers at the line, where he could run into penalty issues at the next level. Otherwise, he’s a very sound prospect.
- Devon Witherspoon draft grade: 83/100
- Devon Witherspoon draft projection: Top 20 pick
NFL projection for Devon Witherspoon
Devon Witherspoon will immediately become a starting cornerback in the NFL. How much he gets tested early on will be up to him and how quickly he acclimates himself. Based on his college tape, Witherspoon should thrive in man coverage, yet his football awareness should make him a good fit in zone-heavy schemes too.
We’ll stop short of placing him up there with Sauce Gardner, last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, but Witherspoon seems to have separated himself from this year’s crop of top cornerback prospects, which includes Joey Porter Jr.
Whether cornerbacks can experience immediate success at the next level is always a toss-up. Who else is on the defense, helping make life tougher on the offense? Is there a respectable pass rush that prevents a cornerback from covering for, say seven seconds instead of three?
Witherspoon’s draft range likely begins with the Detroit Lions, who hold the No. 6 pick in the NFL Draft, and have an urgent need for more help in the secondary. If he slips past the Lions’ den, Witherspoon could very well be the pick for each team after Detroit, with Las Vegas, Atlanta, Chicago, and Philadelphia all reasonably chasing after a top cornerback.
We aren’t going to label Devon Witherspoon as a Rookie of the Year candidate simply due to how difficult it typically is for a cornerback to win the award. But Witherspoon could become an annual All-Pro cornerback who helps shut down his side of the field. If that comes to fruition, he will be a home run pick for whichever team is lucky enough to land him on draft day.