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NFL Draft Rewind: No. 16 Devon Witherspoon

Devon Witherspoon
Devon Witherspoon (© Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports)

The NFL Draft kicks off with its opening round on April 27 in Kansas City, so Rivals is taking a look back at its projected first-round picks when they were high school prospects. We move on to our projected No. 16 – Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon, who was an unranked prospect in the 2019 class.

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No. 16: CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois

Where they were ranked: The Pensacola (Fla.) Pine Forest standout defensive back did not start playing football until his junior season but immediately shined and he finished with 74 tackles and seven interceptions as a senior. He was unranked as a prospect in the 2019 class and didn’t sign with Illinois until late July after his senior year.

Recruitment: Four days before Illinois’ fall camp started, Witherspoon committed to the Illini over Appalachian State, Georgia State, UMass, Southern Miss and other non-Power Five programs. He had originally been pledged to Hutchinson (Kan.) Hutchinson CC and looked like he was going the JUCO route but ended up in Champaign instead.

Biggest question: Can Witherspoon keep his hands off receivers deeper into routes? In an NFL where points are at a premium and refs are more than willing to throw their flag for pass interference, can Witherspoon trust his technique and eyes enough to keep his hands off?

Devon Witherspoon
Devon Witherspoon (Nick Lucero/

Memories: The big recruit at Pensacola Pine Forest in the 2019 class was Martin Emerson, who signed with Mississippi State and all the coaches were coming by the school to recruit the 6-foot-2 cornerback.

Then-assistant coach Ryan Vandervort was telling all the coaches about Witherspoon as well but they were concerned about his size and some grade issues as the unranked corner was listed at 6-foot and only 160 pounds in high school. Witherspoon was at a Rivals camp and definitely looked lean in his photos as some college programs were interested but he wasn’t getting the recruiting attention many thought he deserved.

The unranked recruit was also a big-time competitor in basketball and track which probably would have intrigued college coaches more but his recruitment was not taking off.

There’s not much else to remember Witherspoon by during his prep career although his senior season highlight tape is really impressive. He has length and does a great job of stepping in front of passes and baiting quarterbacks to throw his way so he can step in front of it and make a play on the ball.

At Illinois this season, Witherspoon was up to slightly over 180 pounds, played with extreme confidence, loved chirping at receivers and defending the best ones on the other side of the field and really stood out in two ways: Doing a great job defending passes down the sideline or across the middle where he could poke the ball away and being a physical, aggressive corner who had some safety help but didn’t really need it.