Our 2023 Pride of Detroit Community Mock Draft is underway and over the next four weeks, members/commenters of the Pride of Detroit community will be making selections for every pick in the first two rounds. I have the privilege to represent the Detroit Lions and will be making both picks No. 6 and 18 for them.
So far, we have seen five picks come off the board:
No. 1: Carolina Panthers, Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
No. 2: Houston Texans, C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
No. 3: Arizona Cardinals, Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
No. 4: Indianapolis Colts, Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
No. 5: Seattle Seahawks, Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama
And that brings us to the Lions at pick No. 6 overall.
As we laid out in our latest poll, the Lions could go a few different ways with the pick, and the five options we asked readers to vote on included:
QB Will Levis, Kentucky
OL Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
EDGE Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
As is tradition, I made my selection before the vote, so as to not be influenced by the poll results, and as it turns out, my pick did not align with the readers' opinion that I should select Wilson. Instead, I went with...
Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
Lions general manager Brad Holmes has found success in the NFL Draft by finding the players who not only match the stylistic preferences of the coaching staff but also possess the ideal blend of personality and mentality.
There is no better example of this in this draft class than Witherspoon and coach Dan Campbell/defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.
Witherspoon checks in just under 6-foot-0 and 181 pounds but he plays much bigger than his size and has the frame to hold up in the NFL—which lines up similarly to Glenn who was a three-time All-Pro at 5-foot-9, 183 pounds.
One of the cleaner prospects in this draft class, Witherspoon possesses a rare combination of several elite traits that make him a potential CB1 at the next level. His confidence level is off-the-charts, his instincts and processing skills are among the best I have seen at the cornerback position, and he is a tone-setter on the defense with his style of play and demeanor.
A very experienced corner, Witherspoon has 2,334 career snaps on defense, and last season he was among the highest-graded cornerbacks in college football.
According to PFF, Witherspoon finished the 2022 season with a coverage grade of 92.5 (the highest grade among corners), allowing just 22 completions on 63 passes thrown his way, which is a minuscule 34.9% completion rate, and a 25.3 passer rating for quarterbacks. He did not allow a touchdown and secured three interceptions along with 14 pass breakups, illustrating his elite ball skills. No corner in this draft class played in man coverage more than Witherspoon did this season, yet: “On 107 press coverage snaps this past season, the junior allowed a grand total of one yard.”
Press man coverage skills are a requirement in Glenn’s scheme and Witherspoon’s twitchy skill set is tailor-made. While Witherspoon likely doesn’t possess sub-4.4 speed like a few of the other corners in this draft class, he still has plenty of speed and can live in the hip pocket of receivers. His ability to smoothly open his hips, stay in phase and carry receivers vertically illustrated his ability to mirror all types of receivers. His technique is solid, and while he can get a bit too handsy at times (six penalties in 2022), his natural instincts are to play through the hands of the receiver, which leads to double-digit pass breakups. When the ball is in the air, his eyes gravitate to the football and his competitiveness puts him in a situation to consistently win the 50/50 ball.
But Witherspoon is not limited to being a press-man coverage corner only. His off-the-ball skills are tremendous, which gives him the range to cover both high and low areas of the field. His ability to drop into a zone, sniff out the play design, then click-and-close on the ball are some of his best traits. Witherspoon can also move all around the field in order to match up in coverage. At Illinois, he had an 85/15% split between playing on the outside and in the slot.
CB Devon Witherspoon is a stud— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) January 5, 2023
When tape matches numbers:
-22 receptions allowed on 63 catchable tgts (only 6 went for 1st downs)
- 3 INTs, 18 forced incompletions
-25.0 passer rating when targeted (per PFF)
-Multiple highlight reel run stops pic.twitter.com/BNRDuHi2xU
Beyond the plus coverage traits, Witherspoon’s ability to contribute as a run defender will surely have the Lions coaches drooling. With a feisty playing style that features controlled aggression, Witherspoon is a devastating striker whose instincts are on display every game:
Would Devon Witherspoon fit in Detroit?— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) January 21, 2023
Exhibit A is at the bottom of the screen —> pic.twitter.com/XWBb4595d3
While Witherspoon blowing up plays will put you on the edge of your seat, his technique and physicality in run support are beautiful to watch. His ability to see the play unfold, stay clean off blocks, and read-and-drive on the ball carrier, routinely results in plays like this:
Devon Witherspoon exhibit B —> pic.twitter.com/72Er7HAngW— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) January 21, 2023
The Lions have heavily invested in upgrading their secondary this offseason, and while Cameron Sutton and C.J. Gardner-Johnson seem destined for starting roles on the outside and in the slot respectively, the opposite outside corner spot will be a wide-open competition. Returning starters Jeff Okudah and Jerry Jacobs will battle with free-agent addition Emmanuel Mosley (who is coming off an ACL injury), but there is no clear front-runner for the role. If the Lions acquired Witherspoon, the competition level would increase even further.
Even if Witherspoon did not win a starting role, he has experience playing on kick coverage units in college and could find a starting role there while he continues to fight for playing time on defense.
Additionally, the Lions have a sneaky long-term need at the position. Gardner-Johnson, Okudah, and Moseley are in the final year of their contracts, and Jacobs is set to become a restricted free agent, meaning it’s possible none of them return to the Lions in 2024, so adding a talent like Witherspoon would give the Lions security at the position.
Time to grade the pick.
What grade do you give the Lions for drafting Devon Witherspoon?
This poll is closed