Why the Pittsburgh Steelers won't draft CB Devon Witherspoon

Devon Witherspoon Illinois v Indiana
Devon Witherspoon Illinois v Indiana / Justin Casterline/GettyImages
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Entering the 2023 offseason, it was abundantly clear the Pittsburgh Steelers would use one of their early draft picks on a cornerback. Even with the possibility of Cam Sutton returning, starting Levi Wallace or Ahkello Witherspoon across from him (or even both when Sutton kicked inside in Nickel packages) was not an acceptable possibility.

Sutton ended up leaving, but even though he was replaced by veteran Patrick Peterson, Pittsburgh’s need at corner might be even direr than if Sutton returned. While Peterson is still one of the more reliable corners in the league, even at his age, the Steelers desperately need a young corner that can play immediately across from him and become their CB1 in the near future.

With all that being said, there seems to be a shift in the Steelers’ defensive philosophy with Teryl Austin coordinating the defense and Omar Khan and Andy Weidl leading the charge on player acquisition.

Previously, with Keith Butler coordinating the defense, the team seemed to lean more toward corners that could play more man coverage and were reliable tacklers (i.e., Joe Haden and Steven Nelson). But now, they seem to be pivoting toward more zone-centric corners (especially ones with length) with good ball skills (i.e., Ahkello Witherspoon, Levi Wallace, and Patrick Peterson). 

One name that seemingly fits with this shift in strategy was Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon. Witherspoon flew up boards this past season thanks to his tenacious play style and affinity for breaking up passes. He is widely considered the best cornerback in this class and is among the best prospects in the entire class.

Early on in the process, many connected the Steelers to Joey Porter Jr. from Penn State given their relationship with his father as a former player and their propensity toward picking players with great bloodlines. But Witherspoon has become a very popular name to mock to the Steelers as of late. 

However, I would contend there is mounting evidence that Witherspoon is not an ideal fit for the Steelers. I would also like to provide the caveat that I am not Witherspoon’s biggest fan as a prospect, and thus would not be thrilled if Pittsburgh selected him in the first round. While that is my own personal preference, I still believe Omar Khan, Andy Weidl, and Mike Tomlin have shown their hand in terms of what type of cornerback they’re interested in. Furthermore, Witherspoon does not fit that archetype.