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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Steelers Pre-Draft Meetings

Firstly, let’s look at which cornerbacks the Steelers have met with in the pre-draft process. At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Pittsburgh met with seven cornerbacks: Deonte Banks, Emmanuel Forbes, Jaylon Jones, Clark Phillips III, Joey Porter Jr., Kelee Ringo, and Cam Smith. Witherspoon is noticeably absent from this list, which is more interesting considering he did not work out at the Combine due to an injury.

Clark Phillips from Utah is a notable outlier on this list as he is very small (5’9”, 184) and did not test particularly well even for his size. But the rest of these corners are either very tall/long or very athletic. Jaylon Jones is very tall (6’2”) but not particularly long (30” arms); his testing numbers equated out to a very solid Relative Athletic Scores (RAS) of 8.78, but his 40-yard dash was very disappointing (4.57). As previously mentioned, Witherspoon did not participate in the drills at the Combine but measured in at 5’11” and 181 pounds with 31.25” arms. 

Next, let’s look at which teams the Steelers have met with since the combine. Pittsburgh has now spent eight of their 30 allotted pre-draft visits on cornerbacks. Those players are as follows: Deonte Banks, Julius Brents, Christian Gonzalez, Emmanuel Forbes, Joey Porter Jr., Kelee Ringo, Darius Rush, and Tyrique Stevenson (players with multiple meetings are in bold). Again, all eight of these players are exceptionally athletic; they all have an RAS of at least 8.23. Secondly, four of the eight (Brents, Porter, Rush, and Stevenson) have arms that are at least 32.5 inches. The three that don’t all ran the 40-yard dash in less than 4.40 seconds; Banks and Forbes ran 4.35s, Ringo posted a 4.36, and Gonazlez a 4.38. 

Finally, let’s look at which Pro Days the Steelers have attended and who went where. We’ll start with Witherspoon. Per Alex Kozora of Steelers Depot, the only member of the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Illinois pro day was area scout Mark Gorsack. Compare this to Kelee Ringo at Georgia’s pro day, where Mike Tomlin, Omar Khan, and Teryl Austin were all in attendance.

Granted, there are plenty of other prospects to check out at Georgia. But Illinois also has several draftable prospects this year, and the Steelers brass met with Ringo separately around his pro day. Austin and assistant GM Andy Weidl were in attendance for Penn State’s pro day to watch Joey Porter Jr. Senior scouting assistant Kelvin Fisher was the only member in attendance for Christian Gonzalez at Oregon’s pro day.

But that fell on the same day as Clemson’s pro day where Tomlin, Khan, Austin, director of college scouting Dan Colbert, and vice president of player personnel Dan Rooney Jr. were all in attendance. Rooney was also in attendance at South Carolina’s pro day for Cam Smith and Darius Rush. 

In recent years, multiple meetings (especially attendance at the Pro Day) are a pretty solid indicator for the Steelers’ first-round selection. In fact, in 2021, the Steelers met with their first two picks (Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth) multiple times, two of the five prospects they met with multiple times. Therefore, the meetings point to two prospects significantly more than any of the others: Joey Porter Jr. and Kelee Ringo.

They met with these two at the combine, at their pro days, and added team visits as well. They’ve also met with Christian Gonzalez, Deonte Banks, and Emmanuel Forbes, but the decision-makers were not in attendance at their pro days. Compare this to Devon Witherspoon, who they have not met with once. Witherspoon was supposed to be in Mobile, AL for the Senior Bowl but dropped out due to injury.