Prior to the NFL Combine two months ago, I wrote features about potential landing spots for the four Buffs that received invites: Chidobe Awuzie, Sefo Liufau, Tedric Thompson and Ahkello Witherspoon. Now that the draft is over, I’m going to take a look at how my ideal landing spots matched up where all four guys ended up.
Chidobe Awuzie: Dallas Cowboys
As far as I’m concerned, Awuzie landed in the most ideal spot possible, which is why I wrote about this as a potential destination initially. The influx of tall, talented, physical wide receivers, together with the lack of elite cornerback talent (excluding Josh Norman of the Redskins and Janoris Jenkins of the Giants) in the NFC East made Awuzie the prototypical player to land in this division.
He fits particularly well with the Cowboys because he has the skillset and talent that allows you to put him on an island against a team’s top wide receiver. In a division where all teams have lethal secondary receiving targets, this versatility will be huge because the Cowboys will be able to direct their attention towards those targets more, rather than putting all their attention towards the top wideout.
Under experienced defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, Awuzie will be playing primarily in the very familiar 4-3 defense, which will mirror the system he played in at Colorado under Jim Leavitt. After drafting talented slot cornerback Jourdan Lewis of Michigan in the third round, it appears Awuzie will mainly man the outside and nickel cornerback positions, where he excelled the most in his time at Colorado.
Put this together with the fact that Marinelli has a known obsession with blitzing a extra cornerback, something that’s generated eight sacks for Awuzie for the past two years, and this couldn’t be a better fit.
Sefo Liufau: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After a atrocious combine performance, it was no surprise that he ended up going undrafted. Following the departure of mainstay backup quarterback Mike Glennon to the Chicago Bears, it appears there is open competition for starting quarterback Jameis Winston’s clipboard holder. Here, there is no reason Liufau can’t come in and win a primary backup role right away.
That said, Liufau is going to have to show massive growth and improvement if he wants any chance of winning the job. In addition, there is an endless number of trick play possibilities with offensive mastermind and sophomore head coach Dirk Koetter running the show. Just like Pete Carroll, Koetter loves versatile quarterbacks who can move around and be utilized in a variety of roles.
In Tampa, Liufau can come in as an extra blocking tight end, an extra fullback or a wildcat quarterback. As an extra tight end or fullback, he’d serve to complement O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, who are already great blocking tight ends. As a wildcat quarterback, he’d throw opposing defenses for a spin, while opening up the possibility of a jet sweep involving speedsters DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin, or the able-bodied, athletic Mike Evans.
Although the probability of Liufau seeing the field as a starting quarterback here anytime soon (barring an injury) are almost zero, there are so many other possible schematic usages for him in Tampa that it’s a good fit.
Tedric Thompson: Seattle Seahawks
With the famous legion of doom aging by the second, it was no secret that the Seahawks needed secondary help coming into this draft. Although Earl Thomas has been one of the premier safeties in the league for many years, his injuries in the last two seasons have taught us that he isn’t invincible. By drafting Thompson, Seattle got a ballhawk with extreme upside, who will learn from arguably one the best safeties to ever take the field.
In addition to creating the ideal learning environment for him, the Seahawks will be able to utilize his extensive coverage ability. Although Seahawks fans were calling for a cornerback to play across from disgruntled star Richard Sherman, Thompson has the ability to spot cover at the line of scrimmage, aid in downfield coverage and play in the box.
Although he might not be the elusive cover corner fans were looking for, he gives them the entire package of options to work with and utilize.
Ahkello Witherspoon: San Francisco 49ers
With defensive mastermind and former safety John Lynch running the show in San Francisco, it was expected that the 49ers would look to acquire some secondary help in the draft — with Witherspoon, they got an absolute bargain. After shoring up the front side of the defense with Reuben Foster of Alabama and Solomon Thomas of Stanford in the first round, Lynch shored up the back end when he took Witherspoon with the second pick of the third round.
By taking the tall, lanky Witherspoon, Lynch got a cornerback with ideal attributes, which is something they’ll need if they want to compete for a championship going forward.
Although this team is seemingly in rebuild mode now, Witherspoon has the potential to make an impact right away. He has the rare combination of size, speed and lateral agility to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage, to effectively read and keep up with their routes and take control in a jump-ball situation.
This rare cornerback breed — which includes Sherman of the Seahawks and Stephon Gilmore of the Patriots — has characterized this new defensive era with the once foreign concept of a “defensive mismatch.”
Newly hired defensive coordinator Rob Saleh has experience working with a similar cornerback in Sherman during his time as an assistant in Seattle. With Saleh calling the plays, I can only imagine Witherspoon’s ceiling is sky-high.
Add in that the defensive front is expected to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks, and there is unlimited potential for Witherspoon here. Look for him to be an elite corner and the potentially the steal of this draft going forward.
Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Jack Stern at firstname.lastname@example.org.