NEPD Staff Writer: Mike Gerken
Well, like usual, the boring old Patriots sit back and do nothing in Free Agency again this year. Who am I kidding? I can’t even type that without laughing and I am pretty sure my dog thinks I am crazy. In all seriousness, a lot has happened since the start of Free Agency that has altered the draft strategy of the Patriots and the crazy people like me and you who try and figure out what the team is going to do. The crazy thing is, as I am typing this, I know that things are still evolving and what we all think we know today could be completely wrong by tomorrow. The fact still remains that the Patriots still have a number of draft picks and will be looking for player to improve their team. Despite not having a first or second round pick, there will still be plenty of talent on the board when the Patriots do actually make a pick and maybe Witherspoon could be one of those guys.
Before I get into the scouting report, I want to talk a little about Malcolm Butler. As an outsider, this whole situation seems really strange. From all accounts, Butler has been a humble person off the field and a very good player on it. He seems like the perfect Patriot. The article Mike Reiss wrote hinted at some things that maybe us fans are unaware of with Butler. As we all know, Reiss is very well connected to the team and has been a mouthpiece for the organization in the past. I honestly don’t know what happened to create this wedge between player and team, but I have to think it is more than just a financial issue. We may never know. You do not often see teams part ways with a young pro bowl player at one of the most important positions in football unless there are issues that we as fans are unaware of. Maybe it is as simple as the Patriots think Butler has maximized his playing potential and don’t want to pay him, but the story just doesn’t seem to add up in my opinion. Okay, now onto the report.
Witherspoon has incredible physical attributes for the position. He has a great combination of size and speed, giving him the ability to cover just about anyone on the outside. What I really love about Witherspoon when watching him is his fluidity. His change of direction, foot speed, and ability to mirror receivers reminds me of corners who are much smaller than he is. He showed the ability to turn his head and locate the ball without losing sight of his man or having to downshift his momentum. He made a lot of plays on the ball, tying him for second in passes defended last year. Witherspoon breaks on the ball quickly and makes every catch contested. He is a smart player and takes proper angles to create small windows for Quarterbacks to throw into.
While Witherspoon has more than ideal height and athleticism for the position, he lacks bulk. He can be bullied by physical receivers and must get stronger to be more effective in that area. He struggles to break down and tackle in open space. He is happy letting other players around him come up and make tackles in run defense. Witherspoon can get beat on complex routes and needs to recognize route combinations quicker. He got his hands on a lot of balls, but did not have a lot of turnovers. Witherspoon is still relatively new to the position and is still raw in many facets of the game.
Witherspoon is a guy you can look at from two different perspectives. From a pure cover point of view, he is outstanding. I love the way he moves, not just for a guy his size, but for any corner in this draft. He has such quick feet and easy speed that he can cover just about anyone. On the other hand, he plays the game with little physicality. There is no way to put this lightly, he is bad in run support and tackling in general. He has to bulk up and he has to become more physical to become a well rounded player in the NFL. If you are looking for a pure cover corner though and can live with the lack of run support, Witherspoon is going to be a great value. From my own personal perspective, I really like him. He has been one of my favorite Corners to watch. That being said, I think the Patriots like Corners who are more physical and are strong tacklers, so he may not even be on their board. For me, he is a top 75 player and I think if he is available after round 2, he is a steal.