The following article is based on the opinions of external draft analysts.
We're heading into the fourth season of the Ron Rivera era, and the Washington Commanders have a pristine opportunity to strengthen their roster.
In his first season as Washington's head coach, Rivera took Chase Young, who became the 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year, with the No. 2 overall pick. The next season, he drafted Jamin Davis with the No. 19 overall pick, and the former Kentucky Wildcat showed promise in his first season. And last year, the Commanders took Jahan Dotson, who wasted no time in becoming a valuable member of the Commanders' receiving corps.
Now, the Commanders have the No. 16 overall pick, and analysts are predicting them to go with a plethora of positions, from offensive line to cornerback and linebacker, at that spot.
In anticipation for that selection, Commanders.com will highlight one mock draft from a draft expert each week and delve into how that player would fit with Washington. Here are the players we have covered so far:
Next, we're sticking with the cornerback position and highlight another player who could offer immediate help to the Commanders' secondary.
Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
Cornerbacks are known more for shutting down receivers than being impressive tacklers, but Devon Witherspoon is not afraid to lay a lick on a pass-catcher when necessary.
Indiana Hoosiers running back Shaun Shivers got first-hand experience with what it is like when Witherspoon plays downhill. Less than a second after Shivers touched the ball on a swing pass, Witherspoon blasted the ball from his hands and firmly planted the running back into the turf.
That is the kind of physicality Witherspoon, a probable Day One pick, will bring to a team once he gets drafted in April. In a class that is filled with talented cornerbacks, many consider him to be the best at the position, and CBS Sports' Ryan Wilson believes the Commanders are the team to take a chance on him.
"Devon Witherspoon had a great season for the Illini, and while there will be questions about his slight frame, you wouldn't know it... watching him play," Wilson wrote.
Witherspoon is certainly not the biggest cornerback in this year's class. At 5-foot-11, he falls behind the likes of Joey Porter Jr. (6-foot-2) and Christian Gonzalez (6-foot-1). He is above average in terms of size at 181 pounds, but both Gonzalez and Porter have at least 12 pounds on him.
Witherspoon made up for that by being one of best lock down defensive backs in college football last year. He set a new career high with 14 pass breakups (10th among all defensive players in 2022) and three interceptions (tied for eighth).
Witherspoon allowed receptions on just 35.5% of targets, but any player lucky enough to get a catch found little success. He gave up just 71 yards after the catch, and according to ESPN, he gave up just 3.3 yards per attempt.
"He was extremely consistent all season," wrote ESPN's Mel Kiper, who has Witherspoon as the top cornerback on his big board. "He doesn't get handsy with receivers, so his game will translate well to the NFL."
Kiper also wrote that he would have liked to have seen how Witherspoon performed at the Combine, but he will need to wait until Witherspoon's pro day on March 30 for that. Witherspoon tweaked his hamstring and did not run the 40 or any other drill.
That does not do much to change people's opinions about his potential in the NFL, though.
"He plays with anticipation, route feel and a consistent sense of urgency to prevent catches, as displayed by his high number of pass breakups," wrote NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein. "He plays with ball-hawking eyes and good balance from zone coverage and is very aggressive tackling both after the catch and in run support."
As Pro Football Focus' Mike Renner said in his top 10 cornerback rankings in January, "None can hold a candle" to Witherspoon's production.
"Witherspoon brought it every single week for the Fighting Illini in a way we, quite frankly, have never seen before in our nine years of college grading. He was targeted 63 times but allowed just 22 catches for 206 yards with three interceptions and 14 pass breakups. Oh, and he didn't allow a single touchdown all season."