Buffs Spotlight: Ahkello Witherspoon at the NFL Combine

The NFL Combine kicks off today. The CU Independent’s Jack Stern has explored potential suitors for three out of the four Buffs who received invitations to the event: Chidobe Awuzie, Sefo Liufau and Tedric Thompson.

The final edition of Buffs Spotlight will focus on corner Ahkello Witherspoon. Possible suitors for the former Buffaloes defensive back are the Tennessee Titans, the Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts

Tennessee Titans: Many think the Titans are a team on the verge of greatness. After going 9-7 in 2016, the Titans are sitting in the driver’s seat with two first round picks and a lot of their pieces already set in place.

But one of the areas where the Titans lacked dominance last season was in the secondary. The Titans ranked 29th in pass defense in 2016 and desperately need help at the cornerback position.

As I’ve discussed throughout these articles, depth is key in the NFL. If one man goes down, there needs to be another ready to step up. Even if the Titans decide to sign or draft a big name corner, they would gain depth by drafting Witherspoon. And if they want to be one of the elite defensive units in the NFL, this is something they’ll likely need — especially in the AFC South.

Bottom Line: I see this as likely. With defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s love for physical cover corners, this could definitely happen. Witherspoon excels in man coverage while switching off between the trail and press techniques.

However, the one thing that might scare LeBeau away is Witherspoon’s lack of effectiveness against the run. He seems to shy away and has been unable to take down dynamic backs.

Although there are downsides to Witherspoon’s style of play, his positives outweigh the negatives. Witherspoon is an athletic cover corner who excels in passing downs. He’s the type of guy who you can assign to cover the first, second or third receiver without any hesitation, which makes him an attractive option for this particular defense.

Green Bay Packers: The Green Bay Packers are a great team and a solid franchise. With season-ending injuries to many of their top players — including Eddie Lacy, James Starks and Sam Shields — and others playing hurt throughout the season – Clay Matthews, Morgan Burnett, Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams – they still managed to make the NFC Championship Game.

This in itself speaks volumes. One specific area where the Packers struggled was pass defense, where they ranked dead last with 278.2 yards allowed through the air per game.

It’s no secret the Packers need to improve their defense against the pass — the question is how they’re going to do it. Knowing the Packers’ thrifty nature, they’re going to look to the draft as part of their plan. A late-round grab like Witherspoon would make sense.

Bottom Line: Witherspoon would certainly make sense in Green Bay, but this outcome isn’t likely. He is a guy who could come in and make an impact right away, especially with defensive mastermind Dom Capers running the show. Witherspoon’s not afraid to shy away from a challenge.

This is something that Capers likes, as he always is looking for creative ways to feature new packages. One thing I feel will turn Capers off about Witherspoon, however, is the struggle he has had with the run and pass rush. In the past, Capers has liked to dial up pressure, and has occasionally brought a cornerback from the edge to blitz.

Additionally, if the Packers are able to pick up a solid cornerback in the first or second round, you may see Capers shift his focus towards bringing in an effective pass rusher, which is why I don’t see Witherspoon ending up with Green Bay.

Indianapolis Colts: Although Vontae Davis has been effective at the corner position, he can’t play forever. The Colts’ defense, which had a low pass defense ranking in 2016, is likely going to need some help at the cornerback position.

They need a guy who can consistently cover DeAndre Hopkins and whoever the Titans may pick up to be their number one wideout. This is why drafting a cornerback like Witherspoon would make sense.

Bottom Line: This would definitely be the “wild card” of the three possible landing spots for Witherspoon. The main factor making this even possible is the Colts’ defensive coordinator Ted Monachino’s love for press coverage. I feel he would really bring out the best in Witherspoon. The player’s role under Monachino’s defensive scheme would ultimately resemble his role with the Buffs under Jim Leavitt, one of the main people contributing to Witherspoon’s development. Playing under a similar system would help  Witherspoon become a better player and reach his full potential.

Under Monachino, Witherspoon would likely play outside — an area where he excels — and would be expected to defend against the deep ball. The one thing that may be of concern is his speed and whether or not he is able to run with the NFL’s fastest.

Although this may be the case, I feel that Monachino would be able to perfect his technique and make him a solid go-to corner in the NFL. But with many other positions that need addressing, and other, higher-ranked cornerback prospects, this still remains an unlikely landing spot for the former Buff.

Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer at jack.stern@colorado.edu.

Jack Stern

Jack Stern is a staff sports writer for the CU Independent. He is a know-it-all sports fan who soaks up anything sports related. His favorite sports are football, baseball, and basketball, but is always excited to learn about, and cover other sports. For story ideas, he can be contacted at jack.stern@colorado.edu or by phone at 718-938-5846.

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