“I’m a Devon Witherspoon fan,” said NFL Network Draft expert Daniel Jeremiah on a media conference call. “I love his game. He has that good Miami vibe. He brings good energy.”
Yes, cornerback Devon Witherspoon has, by far, the highest NFL Draft stock of anybody on the 2022 Illinois Fighting Illini team that went 8-5. Although it’s worth noting that Johnny Newton will be right up there when his time comes.
Witherspoon only has adequate, but not ideal size at 5-foot-11 1/2, 181 pounds. However, he has elite quickness, instincts and ball-hawking skills. He brings quickness, speed and athleticism to the table, so much so that Jeremiah says Witherspoon reminds him of both Samari Rolle and Denzel Ward.
Spoon, who is also noted for his elite coverage skills and abilities, will be the first cornerback off the board Thursday night. Jeremiah ranks him the sixth best overall prospect in this draft class, and in his latest NFL mock draft, projects him sixth to the Detroit Lions.
Who knows, maybe, if things break a certain way on Thursday night at Union Station in Kansas City, Devon Witherspoon will be a top five overall pick?
“I’m a big fan of the guys they’ve got in the secondary there at Illinois,” said Jeremiah. They’re all really good players. Devon Witherspoon, when you first popped him on was just blown away with the instincts and just the natural feel and awareness, route recognition.
“He sees things before they develop. Sometimes you can see guys that have the athletic ability, and sometimes you see guys that really have studied film and they know how to play, and it’s not common when you see guys that have all that wrapped up together.
“He does. He is a complete package that way. I mean, I wish he was 200 pounds. He is not going to be. He is going to be a
little bit lighter, but he just pulls the trigger. He does not play with any hesitation.”
Illinois, despite having the number one ranked defense in the nation most of the season, doesn’t have a true NFL draft first round prospect, outside of Witherspoon, who was named the Big Ten’s Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year in 2022.
He was one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award (nation’s best defensive back), after leading the nation in reception percentage against (33.8) and forced incompletions (16), according to PFF.
Witherspoon was sixth in the nation in passes defended (17) and allowed fewer than 35 receiving yards in 11 of 12 games this season. He is a Bednarik Award (best defensive player) semifinalist, along with DT Jer’Zhan Newton.
Jeremiah had a lot more to say about Devon Witherspoon:
“He plays with ultimate aggressiveness and confidence and urgency. Then you see that and say, okay, well, let’s see what happens when they hit him with double moves because sometimes you can take advantage of guys that are making plays on the ball. He doesn’t fall for it.
“He is really, really instinctive that way. He is outstanding in zone. There’s a play in the red zone. I want to say it was Virginia who they were playing. I’ll have to go back and look at my notes. There’s a play where he is in the flat.
“He is in the flat of the flat defender. That’s where his responsibility lies. He just reads the quarterback’s eyes. He comes off of the flat about the front of the end zone, maybe the five yard line.
“He ends up in the back of the end zone breaking up a pass on a crosser just because he was reading the quarterback’s mail. He just has outstanding eyes, quickness, and ball skills.
“I like the fact that he plays with an edge. I like to talk to the guys that have been training with him, with these guys and kind of get some feedback, character-wise, personality-wise. They’re, like, this guy just has really, really good Florida swag.”
We caught up to Devon Witherspoon after his final collegiate game, a 41-3 demolition of Northwestern in Evanston on Thanksgiving weekend.
“I think I had a pretty good year, but I just couldn’t do it without my teammates,” Witherspoon said of his season.
“I don’t try to take all the credit and stuff, but my front line, they deserve all the credit. The things they do up front allows me to play the game and play the way I like to play.
“Shoutout to them boys. I just think I had a great season, but it’s all because of them.”
In describing his success this year, Devon Witherspoon said:
“It means a lot. I’m trying to contain all the happiness and try to keep a straight face, but it just means a lot. I’m very proud of myself. I came a long way since I first got here and stuff, so it means a lot to me.”
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Paul M. Banks is the Owner/Manager of The Sports Bank and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”
He has regularly contributed to WGN News, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, and he co-hosts the After Extra Time podcast. Follow him and the website on Twitter and Instagram.
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