Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon was a key member of the third-ranked Colorado secondary last season. He heads to the NFL Draft in April as perhaps the rawest talent of a defensive back trio that also includes safety Tedric Thompson and corner Chidobe Awuzie. Witherspoon may also have the highest ceiling of the three.
Part of a dominant defensive unit that led the Buffaloes to a Pac-12 title fight and bowl game berth, Witherspoon and the rest of the Colorado defensive backs formed the most disruptive secondary in college football. All three were second team All-Pac-12 selections and are projected NFL draft picks.
Witherspoon led the nation in passes defended in 2016 (a record he shares with Thompson). He had 20 passes broken up, a forced fumble and an interception in his final season, along with 23 total tackles.
Witherspoon has steadily improved over his time with the Buffs, and should continue to do so at the next level. He only played one season of high school football, part of the reason he remains a largely raw prospect. He spent a season at community college where he racked up 21 tackles, seven passes broken up, three interceptions and a forced fumble before heading to Colorado.
At six-foot-three, 198-pounds Witherspoon is built like an NFL corner. He is dangerously adept at reading and adjusting to opposing offenses. His speed is explosive, he ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. His dynamic skill set made him an enormous threat opposite of Awuzie, forcing quarterbacks to choose between two shutdown corners.
The Good: Witherspoon’s size and long arms (33 inches) allow him to beat receivers for jump balls. He has great hands and explosive speed coupled with solid footwork. He has shown exceptional route-reading abilities and consistently makes plays on the football. Quarterbacks completed only 31.8 percent of passes against him last season. Witherspoon’s play doesn’t dim under bright lights or high pressure – his lone interception of 2016 was a dramatic game-winner in the end zone against Oregon.
The Bad: Witherspoon’s raw talent is impressive, but he still has plenty of developing left to do. He has struggled with tackling, particularly in open space against the run. He will need to hit harder to compete at the next level. Despite weighing in at 198 lbs, he could stand to add some muscle if he wants to win matchups with bigger receivers in the NFL. Over three seasons at Colorado, he only managed three interceptions. It would really elevate his game if he could turn a few more of those into turnovers.
Projection: Rounds 2-4. Witherspoon can play as a true cover corner at the next level. His size and speed will allow him to mirror NFL receivers and his exceptional ball awareness will help his disruptive play style translate against top talent. He will need to improve his overall physicality, especially when it comes to tackling. He is raw, but with an extremely high ceiling. Overall, Witherspoon is an incredible talent with the ability to develop into something special. He should be at least a second round selection, but could fall to the third or even later because of this year’s deep corner class.