RENTON — The Seattle Seahawks continued the overhaul of their defense, selecting Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon with the No. 5 pick of the NFL draft on Thursday night.
Despite edge rusher Tyree Wilson and defensive tackle Jalen Carter still on the board, the Seahawks opted to solidify their cornerback position a year after Seattle spent two draft picks on cornerbacks in Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant.
Seattle came back with the No. 20 pick and grabbed another offensive playmaker for quarterback Geno Smith selecting Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, the first wide receiver taken in the draft.
Witherspoon was regarded as one of the top two cornerbacks in the draft despite being slightly undersized from what Seattle has opted for in the past with players at the position. Witherspoon blossomed in his final season at Illinois where he was the Big Ten defensive back of the year, had three interceptions and 17 passes defensed.
“I’m energetic, physical. I’m a dog on the field,” Witherspoon said. “I’m just very confident in what I do, passionate. I love to show my emotions out there on the field.”
He is the first cornerback to be selected in the first round by Seattle since Kelly Jennings was selected No. 31 overall in 2006.
Seattle held its highest pick during the tenure of coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, the result of the trade that sent Russell Wilson to Denver before last season. In total, Seattle held five picks in top 83 selections of the draft.
And in a surprise based on past decisions, Schneider balked at trading either of his first-round picks and made selections that should instantly help his roster.
Seattle had never drafted a cornerback higher than No. 90 overall during the Schneider/Carroll tenure.
“I was confident I was going to go pretty high. I (didn’t) know it was going to be Seattle, but I’m glad that it is,” Witherspoon said.
The opportunity to have the fifth pick left the Seahawks with a lengthy list of options and areas that could be addressed.
One of those options included quarterback, but that opportunity seemed to bypass Seattle when three QBs were taken in the first four picks. That including Anthony Richardson who was selected with the No. 4 pick by Indianapolis and appeared the best fit for the Seahawks as a developmental option behind Geno Smith.
Instead, Seattle decided to lock down its secondary for the foreseeable future. Seattle has a trio of safeties in Julian Love, Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs, and cornerbacks Witherspoon, Woolen and Bryant.
Smith-Njigba joins a wide receiver group that’s highlighted by DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. But finding a third pass catching option has been a struggle for Seattle’s offense with former second-round pick Dee Eskridge struggling with injuries through his young career.
Smith-Njigba had a breakout season in 2021 when he had 95 receptions for 1,606 yards and dominated the Rose Bowl against Utah with 15 catches for 347 yards and two touchdowns.
Smith-Njigba played just 60 snaps last season because of a lingering left hamstring injury. He finished with five catches for 43 yards and appeared in only three games.