The NFL draft process has not been kind thus far to Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon. Widely regarded as one of the premium players in a loaded defensive back class, Witherspoon may be seeing his draft stock begin to slip.
Hampered by a nagging hamstring injury, Witherspoon could not participate in the NFL Combine. Instead, he watched from the sidelines as his running mates put on a show. Oregon corner Christian Gonzalez tested like a freak, surely cementing himself as the top player at the position for many teams. Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. also enjoyed a strong showing at the combine, headlined by his incredible arm length that seem to hang to his knees, officially 34 inches.
This put all eyes on Witherspoon’s Pro Day, but unfortunately, he was unable to participate as first reported by Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy. Instead, he intends on holding a personal workout for scouts on April 5th, but with so little time between that workout and the NFL Draft, it begs the question: will Witherspoon slip?
As I mentioned earlier, the cornerback class is loaded in this year’s draft with Witherspoon, Gonzalez, and Porter Jr. viewed as the cream of the crop. Without being able to see a player in any type of action since November, it will be easy for scouts to overlook the Illinois defensive back in favor of players competing.
In addition to that, there have been some concerns regarding Witherspoon’s size. At 5’11, 180 pounds, he is the smallest corner of the three standouts. In a league that features the likes of Ja’Marr Chase, DK Metcalf, and AJ Brown, teams tend to favor bigger players at the position to try and match big-bodied receivers.
Does that mean that bigger prospects like Maryland’s Deonte Banks and Georgia’s Kelee Ringo will be taken ahead of a smaller Witherspoon? Doubtful. But it could be the deciding factor between the top talent.
At the end of the day, what do Witherspoon’s injury and smaller stature mean for the Steelers? Hopefully, a slide that sees him fall into their laps.
Despite his size, Witherspoon is made to be a Steelers’ cornerback. A sticky, gritty defensive back who has been touted for his ability in man coverage would easily slide into Pittsburgh’s secondary, which, by the way, loves to play man. The trait that would most attract Mike Tomlin and company to the cornerback is the tenacity with which he plays the position. Witherspoon is a loud, physical presence on the field who isn’t scared to stick his nose in the mix to make a tackle. Just ask Indiana running back Shaun Shivers.
As a senior, Witherspoon was named the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year over fellow prospect Porter Jr. He recorded 17 passes defended, three interceptions, and 41 tackles in 12 starts.
Now for the final, overarching question: do we think Witherspoon will actually fall to the Steelers at 17? The chances could still be low. Before the injury, Witherspoon was regarded as the top corner in the class, and with so many corner-needy teams at the top of the draft, it’s difficult to picture a world where he slips that far. But if he does, Tomlin might sprint the card up to Roger Goodell.