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Ted’s Talk: Predicting Devon Witherspoon’s rookie season

An overview of Seattle’s (first) first-round pick along with my predictions for his rookie season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 22 Chattanooga at Illinois Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Seahawks surprised some analysts when they selected Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. He’s an instinctive and aggressive player that oozes the play style that Peter Clay Carroll loves.

Athletic Profile/Comps

Unfortunately, Witherspoon didn’t perform any tests at the combine since he was coming off a hamstring injury, so we don’t have any good comps to look at. He did put up a 4.45 second 40-yard dash at his pro day, so let’s look at how that compares to the other Seahawks cornerbacks.

Tariq Woolen – 4.26

Michael Jackson – 4.45

Coby Bryant – 4.54

Tre Brown – 4.42

Woolen is an obvious outlier since he’s an alien, but Witherspoon is in the same range as Brown and Jackson and is faster than Coby Bryant. Where Witherspoon may have an advantage is his play recognition and instincts which Pete Carroll compared to NFL Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu who ran a 4.40 at the 2003 combine. Witherspoon’s ability to diagnose plays allows him to play faster and pull the trigger when making a break on the ball. That might be especially important for him since he isn’t built like the usual tarantulas that Pete Carroll likes to employ in the secondary at 5’11” 181 lbs.

We’ve all probably seen this play a hundred times since he was drafted, but it’s a perfect example of Witherspoon recognizing the play before it happens and absolutely blowing it up. He sees the running back go in motion and starts attacking before the ball is even snapped. That poor RB had no chance.

Gut reaction to the pick

Full disclosure – I really wanted Anthony Richardson so I was reeling a bit when he was selected at No. 4 by the Indianapolis Colts. With him off the board, I wanted the Seahawks to either roll the dice on Carter or trade down a few picks and take the best player available – which I was mentally prepared to be a cornerback. Instead of trading back, they stuck and got Witherspoon.

I wasn’t mad or shocked especially since the Detroit Lions were heavily rumored to want Witherspoon (which was basically confirmed by Albert Breer after the draft). I had already seen his highlights and knew John Schneider and Pete Carroll would love his aggressive nature and playmaking ability. To me, this was a good pick since they got the first cornerback on their board in the range that he was expected to be taken.

Rookie season prediction

Witherspoon should enter training camp as the starter opposite last year’s defensive rookie of the year (in my mind) in Tariq Woolen and will keep that job barring some monumental collapse. Since Witherspoon is a very aggressive corner, I’m expecting a fair number of penalties this season. He could also get burned a few times on double moves if opposing QBs use his aggressiveness against him. Don’t get me wrong, I still expect him to make a ton of plays on the ball and knock the shit out of some opposing receivers. There will likely be just as many “Aw f—k, Witherspoon!” moments as there will be “F—k yeah, Witherspoon!”

Remember last year when team’s stopped throwing Woolen’s way? They can do try that again this year, but that means throwing at Witherspoon. He won’t have as many INTs as Woolen did as a rookie but will still pick off three passes and force another two fumbles with at least one defensive TD. Oh, and a few unnecessary roughness penalties to boot. Woolen and Witherspoon will emerge as one of the best corner tandems in the NFL.