The Pittsburgh Steelers made a surprising trade with the Seattle Seahawks for a cornerback named Ahkello Witherspoon. If you were like me, you didn’t know who Witherspoon was, or how he was capable of helping the Steelers’ secondary.
Instead of waiting to hear what others thought of him, I reached out to Niners Nation’s editor Kyle Posey to ask him some questions about Witherspoon. After all, it was San Francisco who drafted Witherspoon, and saw him play throughout his rookie contract.
So, below you’ll see my questions for Kyle in bold, and his answers below. It might not be what Steelers fans want to see, but sometimes a change of scenery can be just what the doctor ordered for some players.
Ahkello Witherspoon is an unknown player to Steelers fans, what does he bring to the team’s secondary?
Witherspoon can be labeled as a tease. He’ll go a few games with high-level play, then the next couple of games, you’ll wonder why he’s on the field. Ahkello finished the season strong for the 49ers last year, and if we were only judging him for his play on the field, San Francisco should have brought back their former third-round pick.
When Witherspoon is playing with confidence, he looks like one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. Look no further than his performance against DK Metcalf during Week 17 last year, or the beginning of 2019, where Ahkello looked like an All-Pro. Unfortunately, during that span, Witherspoon was benched twice for his play. Inconsistencies became too much to overcome.
Does he strictly play outside CB, or can he move into the slot? What kind of athlete is he outside of size and speed?
Ahkello was primarily on the outside when he started. Last year, there were times (Week 2 against the Jets and Week 7 against the Patriots) where he rotated in and played in the slot when the team went to their dime defense. He looked comfortable, and he has the athleticism to play there.
Witherspoon will get endless chances in the NFL thanks to his athletic background. As you mentioned he’s gangly and can run, but he can change directions very well for his size. Leaping has never been an issue, but there have been issues with Ahkello finding the ball in the air.
What are Witherspoon’s weaknesses in his game? Why did the 49ers decide to let him go?
Physicality. Despite his frame, Witherspoon has never been a player that will get in your face and press you. That’s why Seattle let him go. To me, it’s consistently finding the ball in the air and losing track of the receiver at the top of his route. That happened to him against Jerry Jeudy during this past preseason. I’m not sure if it’s due to mental lapses, but it all comes back to inconsistency. If Ahkello played the way he’s capable of, he’d be starting on the 49ers.
If you were to compare Witherspoon to another cornerback, who would be the player comp, and why?
This may not help, but David Amerson is a player I’m reminded of. He was a big, lengthy, athletic cornerback who never put it together and didn’t play to his measurables. I root for Witherspoon as he went through a lot during his time with the 49ers. But he’s talked a big game and has failed to back it up.
Was Witherspoon a fan favorite in San Francisco, and is there any other information you can provide on the CB?
He was not. Far from it, in fact. When you get beaten as a cornerback, everyone sees it. During the magical 2019 run, Witherspoon was the scapegoat as things were going so well everywhere else that it was easy to see the big plays he surrendered. You’d think Witherspoon was a first-round bust the way he’s talked about.
He seemed to fall out of grace with the coaching staff, which didn’t help. Also, calling himself the best cornerback in the league when healthy only to be traded to Pittsburgh won’t help win fans over. Those types of comments, along with maddening play, were reasons why Witherspoon was never a fan favorite.
As I stated earlier, what Witherspoon was, or wasn’t, able to do in San Francisco shouldn’t shape what he can, or cannot, do with the Steelers. Only time will tell if he can re-write his story in Pittsburgh.
A big thank you to Kyle Posey for helping out with this article, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare for the Buffalo Bills in Week 1 of the regular season.