BOULDER — Cornerback might not seem like a major need for the Denver Broncos as they currently possess the most talented trio in the NFL, but executive vice president of football operations and general manager John Elway is always thinking ahead. With star outside cornerback Aqib Talib 31-years old and Bradley Roby entering his final year of his rookie deal, it’s never too early to look to the future.
The advantage the Broncos have over other teams lies in their coaching staff which is led by head coach Vance Joseph and Joe Woods on defense, two of the NFL’s best defensive backs coaches. With Joseph and Woods talent in developing DBs, the Broncos could be searching for raw developmental gems in a loaded cornerback class to plug future holes without loosing a beat in the secondary.
Few fit the bill of a raw gem like Colorado’s very own Ahkello Witherspoon who the Broncos met with at the combine—the only other cornerback they’ve reportedly met with was Florida State’s, Marquez White.
“[They were] just really asking me if I could see myself in a press coverage type of defense, I said ‘definitely’ after having done it here,” explained Ahkello recounting his meeting with Denver’s coaches. “They actually mentioned ‘would I like to play for the Broncos’ and I said yes that it be exciting to be back here in the state.”
At 6-foot-3 and 200-pounds and having run a 4.45 40-yard dash, Witherspoon has the size and speed to blanket wideouts downfield, making him especially intriguing in man coverage and cover-3 looks—the defense that Seattle has made all the rage. He also has shown the ball skills (second in the nation with 22 passes defended) and hops on top of his length to contest just about any ball when it’s in the air against just about any wideout, flashing a combine-best (for cornerbacks) 40.5 inch vertical.
Despite that tantalizing raw package, Witherspoon is still a relative unknown in national scouting circles who are slowly starting to pick up on the former Buffs’ blooming talent. Though that doesn’t seem to bother him one bit.
“I think it’s just late. Just being a late bloomer to the scene,” explained Witherspoon on his lack of coverage so far. “I’ve had to develop both as a man and as a player in my first few years in college and it all kind of came together on my senior year. The biggest thing is just getting through the door. Once I’m in there, I’m confident I’ll stay.”
Witherspoon’s path to stardom has been much more tumultuous and traveled than most prospects. As a still-growing high schooler, he had to take the Community College route, landing in Boulder and having to earn his time on the roster after that. After backing up Ken Crawley his first few years—who started for the New Orleans Saints last season—Ahkello finally broke out in 2016, and his trajectory seems to be pointing upwards even more so now.
The playmaking defensive back has been given a wide draft range from the second through the fourth round, rounds in which Denver possess four picks, after his combine performance. With some of the best defensive backs in the NFL, the Broncos just might gamble on the still green Witherspoon who has the talent to be remembered as one of the big steals of the 2017 draft.