This Top-Five Pick in the NFL Draft Was a Zero-Star College Recruit

The Seattle Seahawks chose Devon Witherspoon in the first round last night. He never even played football until he was a high school junior.

Devon Witherspoon poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected fifth overall by the Seattle Seahawks during the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft at Union Station on April 27, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Devon Witherspoon poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected fifth overall by the Seattle Seahawks during the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Photo by David Eulitt / Getty Images

Per usual, there are no shortage of gripping storylines from day one of the NFL Draft. From Alabama’s continued dominance in developing first-round picks in 15 straight seasons to Will Levis’s precipitous fall from quarterback darling to, at best, second-round afterthought, there are a lot of outlets discussing a lot of different stuff of intrigue — unsurprising in coverage of the top league of the biggest sport in the United States.

But InsideHook wanted to highlight maybe the best underdog story of the night, which came in the form of Devon Witherspoon, a cornerback out of the University of Illinois, who was chosen fifth overall by the Seattle Seahawks.

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“Witherspoon is a physical and tenacious corner who plays with an edge and never backs down,” wrote Steve Muench for ESPN. “He has the instincts, balance and burst to smother short-to-intermediate routes. He’s fluid and fast enough to turn and run with most receivers in press coverage. He turns to locate the ball and plays through receivers’ hands at the catch point. He fights to get off blocks and flashes good stopping power in run support.”

In short, as far as cornerbacks go in this year’s draft, he’s “Him.”’s Daniel Jeremiah ranked Witherspoon the sixth-best prospect in the entire draft. ESPN ranked him seventh and CBS Sports placed him ninth. However, he wasn’t always so highly regarded. As his now-hometown paper, the Seattle Times, reports, Witherspoon was a “zero-star” college recruit upon graduating high school.

“Witherspoon didn’t start playing football until his junior year of high school in Pensacola, Florida, but quickly emerged as the area’s best player by his senior season,” wrote Adam Jude of the Times. “Still, he didn’t earn any star ratings from recruiting services, and his only scholarship offer from a major college program was Illinois.”

Jude reported that, as a college freshman, Witherspoon weighed between 148 and 158 pounds. Now, he’s listed at 5 feet, 11.5 inches and 181 pounds, with 31.25-inch arms. In his senior season, a breakthrough campaign for Witherspoon that saw him jump up to the top of NFL team draft boards, he was named the Big Ten’s best defensive back and a first-team All-American, allowing only 22 receptions on 63 targets, with a completion rate of just 34.9%, per Pro Football Focus.

“Witherspoon did not allow a touchdown in coverage last season, per PFF, and he allowed only one catch in press coverage,” wrote Jude. “His 24.6 passer rating allowed was the best among Power Five cornerbacks,” while playing more man coverage than any other cornerback in his class.

For some context, the player chosen just before Witherspoon in the first round of the NFL Draft last night, quarterback Anthony Richardson of Florida, who went to the Indianapolis Colts, was a four-star recruit. The player chosen right after Witherspoon, Paris Johnson Jr., an offensive tackle from Ohio State who was chosen by the Arizona Cardinals (and also seems like a terrific kid), arrived at college as a five-star recruit.

For additional context, there were no zero-star recruits taken in the first round of either of the last two drafts.

However, there have been at least two notable former zero-star recruits that have since emerged as top-flight NFL players: Cooper Kupp and Justin Jefferson, wide receivers for the Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota Vikings, respectively. The Rams selected Kupp in the third round of the 2017 draft, while Jefferson was in fact picked in the first round of the draft in 2020, though all the way down at number 22.

Look for number-five pick Witherspoon to have a Kupp- and Jefferson-like impact on the other side of the ball for the Seahawks. This one-time “zero” seems ready AF:

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