Raiders Draft 2023: Cornerback Devon Witherspoon

Mar 30, 2023 - 9:28 PM
NCAA Football: Illinois at Minnesota
Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon is a hard-hitting impact cornerback who can also double as a takeaway artist in coverage. | Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Devon Witherspoon is a throwback to the old-school days when cornerbacks packed a wallop at their position group. Watch the Illinois defensive back for even a few clips and you’ll be reminded of Antoine Winfield Sr. — a small cornerback who hit like a linebacker.

Squint while watching tape and the 5-foot-11, 181-pound Witherspoon is undoubtedly reminiscent of the Winfield. The Fighting Illini product is both a blur and emphatic hammer when it comes to both run support or tackling receivers. He puts ever fiber of his physicality into bone-jarring hits dislodging the ball carrier from the ball.

But Witherspoon also offers high-end coverage chops and the ability to ballhawk and take the ball away with interceptions.

All things the Las Vegas Raiders secondary desperately needs, no?

Tale of the Tape: Devon Witherspoon

  • School: Illinois
  • Position: Cornerback
  • Height: 5-foot-11
  • Weight: 181 pounds
  • 2022 Stats: 41 total tackles (32 solo), 2.5 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, 14 passes defensed
  • Career Stats: 157 total tackles (42 solo), 11.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 5 interceptions, 25 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble

Witherspoon’s 2021 and 2022 seasons at Illinois provided both the college and pro landscapes insight on what he could become at the next level. The cornerback was a menace in the backfield with eight stops for loss and a sack in 2021. And then showcased his improved coverage skills on the backend with a career-high three interceptions and 14 pass breakups. All the while showcasing the “enforcer” mentality from the cornerback spot.

Does Witherspoon fit in the Raiders scheme orchestrated by defensive coordinator Patrick Graham? Historically, defensive backs in Graham’s system are high football IQ types who can read and react. They diagnose plays early and correctly and make an attempt on the ball. Witherspoon does that well as he plays with anticipation, has a feel for the route, and has a sense of urgency to prevent catches — as evidenced by his high volume of pass breakups.

Witherspoon has the chops to play zone coverage well and has the burst and urgency to be an aggressive tackler in both run support and after the catch. Raiders cornerbacks were asked to be the best tacklers they could in Graham’s scheme Year 1 and Witherspoon could be the lead-by-example-type on the field.

Despite the potential to be an impact corner in his rookie season, there’s ample concerns to Witherspoon’s game.

He chose not to run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and his speed remains in question. While he did show solid burst on film when making plays, there’s a lack of long speed that’s apparent which may facilitate needing help over the top from a safety. This leads to projections Witherspoon would be more effective as a zone cover corner as opposed to a man-press one.

Witherspoon also tends to get grabby in coverage after the first five yards and his transition from backpedal isn’t as smooth as other cornerback prospects like Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez, for example. This is compounded by an apparent lack of elite speed.

Witherspoon is also prone to eye violations where he gets caught looking too much in the backfield. This results in biting way too hard on play action and double moves. All of which can be detrimental due to Witherspoon’s lack of top end recovery speed.

Yet, as is the question with Gonzalez or any other cornerback prospect, is the seventh overall pick (where Las Vegas is slotted), too high? The Raiders need more competition and young depth at the cornerback spot and based on how the first six selections go, cornerback may be best player available on the board.

Witherspoon may lack the smoothness and size of other prospects, but what can’t be taught is his innate ability to punish ballcarriers. The other aspects can where Witherspoon is lacking can refined by a dedicated and sound coaching staff.

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