Eagles may find perfect fit by adding Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon

Devon Witherspoon, #31, Illinois Fighting Illini (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Devon Witherspoon, #31, Illinois Fighting Illini (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

Super Bowl LVII is officially in the rearview mirror for the Philadelphia Eagles. This means the focus for The Birds will shift toward the NFL Scouting Combine in March. Free Agency follows that, and the 2023 NFL Draft is in April. While the defending NFC Champions are loaded with talent across the roster, one player who has entered the 2023 draft has a skillset that would match the Eagles’ defense perfectly: Illinois Fighting Illini cornerback Devon Witherspoon.

We’ll likely see the Eagles will make changes at the cornerback position in the Spring. James Bradberry will be a free agent in March if he isn’t extended. He turns 30 years old at the beginning of the 2023 season.

Following what unfolded late in Super Bowl LVII (and his tease that he may return to one of the Eagles’ fiercest rivals, the New York Giants. A fresh start could be best and in the cards for both sides. We’ll have to wait and see though.

Darius Slay Jr, the Eagles’ premier shutdown cornerback and team captain, is also on the back half of what’s been a great NFL career. The 32-year-old will be a free agent following 2023. Avonte Maddox, the team’s third cornerback, is still in the mix as well, but he’s better suited to be primarily a slot defender.

Drafting a cornerback would certainly go against Eagles’ general manager Howie Roseman’s business model. It’s historically something that they don’t do.

Philadelphia has drafted three defensive backs in Round 1 since the draft’s inception. They haven’t drafted one on the opening night of the selection meeting since taking Lito Sheppard in 2002. There are a few things to consider. Witherspoon has some upside, but does he represent the best value for the Eagles at the tenth-overall selection or would that be considered a reach?

Devon Witherspoon possesses a combination of quickness, physicality, and technique that would improve any NFL defense.

Devon Witherspoon has been generating buzz surrounding the idea that he may be the best cornerback in the 2023 NFL Draft, and it’s easy to see why that is when you look back at the season he put together in 2022.

The 22-year-old totaled three interceptions and 14 passes defended, giving him five interceptions and 25 passes defended during his time with the Fighting Illini. He was a leader on a defense that was second in the nation with an average of 13.8 points per game. That led to him being named a consensus All-American and winning First-Team All-Big Ten honors

Watch Witherspoon play, and you’d never know that he didn’t start playing football until he was a junior in high school. His six-foot, 180-pound frame gives him good length for an NFL corner, even if he is slightly lean.

Witherspoon’s length gives him the ability to make quick breaks toward both his matchup on offense and the football, as well as the ability to get handsy with opposing receivers and make excellent plays on the football, such as his following ones from 2022.

His elite level of hand-eye coordination resembles great man-to-man cornerbacks in the NFL such as Jalen Ramsey and Sauce Gardner, and while Witherspoon may not be at that level today, he is ready to play at an NFL level and take his game to the next step.

Devon Witherspoon’s elite talent is something that has caused him to light up radar’s across NFL scouting circles. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah ranks Witherspoon as both the best cornerback prospect of 2023, as well as the fifth-best prospect in the entire 2023 NFL Draft. Pro Football Focus has also given the crown as this year’s top cornerback prospect.

Witherspoon received Pro Football Focus’ highest coverage grade among cornerbacks in 2022 (92.5).  This is no surprise considering he allowed a passer rating of 25.3, the best of any corner in this draft with a minimum of 100 snaps.

He has also only allowed receptions on 35.5% of targets and forced incompletions on 29.0%  of targets. Both are top three marks for cornerback prospects in this draft with over 100 snaps played.

The physicality and ability to make tackles are something that gives Witherspoon an incredibly unique game. Witherspoon can cover the outside of the field and still deliver big blows, which is incredibly rare for such talented coverage corners. His hits are not only incredible highlights but also clean and technique-driven, such as this one from Illinois’ 2022 matchup with the Indiana Hoosiers.

Witherspoon played 616 of his 784 snaps in 2022 lined up against outside wide receivers, and he could be the perfect piece to compliment Darius Slay Jr on the outside in 2023, and potentially the leader at the position group in 2024 and beyond.

While there are a handful of players who possess the potential to be worthy of the tenth overall pick, Devon Witherspoon should undoubtedly be a name at the very top of the list. Few prospects in the entire draft match Witherspoon’s combination of potential upside and pro-readiness, and cornerback is one of the few positions on the roster the Eagles may look to improve upon this offseason.