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Ahkello Witherspoon is having a season that rivals Jalen Ramsey’s best with the Rams

Ahkello Witherspoon has proven his ‘prove-it deal’ with Rams

Los Angeles Rams v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams signed Ahkello Witherspoon in late June after deciding to let go of most of their key defensive players, and he was given a deal to prove himself so he could go and get paid a bigger contract the following season. He’s set himself up for that contract and maybe a lot more, as Witherspoon has been a key foundational find for the Rams as they go through their first season of a self-titled “remodel”.

The Rams have had some pretty huge names at cornerback under Sean McVay. It starts with guys like Trumaine Johnson and Nickell Robey-Coleman. However, he’s also coached the likes of Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Darious Williams and of course, Jalen Ramsey. Heck, even Sam Shields was a big name at one point. The Rams have always been particular in who they bring in. If it wasn’t a big name then L.A. would go out and steal someone like a Kayvon Webster or Troy Hill who would end up being a quality find. Now, it seems like that steal is Ahkello Witherspoon in 2023 and he appears to be more than what anyone could have expected.

Witherspoon has been sensational for the Rams in their quest to go back to the playoffs. He’s taken up a leadership role in the back end of a younger secondary and he’s also stepped in and filled the shoes or at least tried to fill the shoes of Jalen Ramsey. See, the Rams decided to pay off all of their “credit card debt” which essentially means they spent $75 million dollars on players who currently aren’t on their roster in 2023. Why? So they could free up loads of salary cap for 2024 and beyond. The only problem with this is that L.A. still wanted to compete in 2023 and while spending the fewest dollars of any team on the defense, the Rams were able to find contributors like Witherspoon to bolster their defense.

Just how great has Witherspoon been though? The 28-year-old corner out of Colorado is among the top 10 or close in most of the important cornerback metrics in the league.

Witherspoon is top-10 in catch% allowed, pass breakups, passer rating allowed, forced incompletions, and in man coverage.

As you can see here Witherspoon has put up some stellar numbers and this is with a defense that been 21st in the league in pressures on the quarterback. It’s not like Witherspoon is doing this with the Super Bowl defense. It makes it all the more impressive when you consider what Witherspoon is being asked to do.

Teams are targeting Witherspoon deep downfield as his average depth of target is 15.6 yards downfield. Even still, Witherspoon is only giving up a reception every 14.3 snaps. He’s been an absolute clamp in the secondary has he’s only allowed 30 receptions on 66 targets. It’s not like he’s had the benefit of playing off a Hall of Fame corner or anything either. Witherspoon is the number one corner for the Rams and as the season has gone on he’s received more trust and confidence from his coaching staff and they in turn have decided to leave him out on his own in coverage on an island more.

Here’s Witherspoon’s resume against each receiving target he’s covered per Pro Football Focus:

Week 1. Seahawks: 2 catches, 33 YDs (3 targets)

DK Metcalf: 1 catch, 28 yards (on 1 target)

Tyler Lockett: 1 catch, 5 yards (on 1 target)

Week 2. 49ers: 0 catches, 0 yards (on 1 target)

Brandon Aiyuk: 0 catches, 0 yards (1 target)

Week 3. Bengals: 3 catches, 29 yards (9 targets)

Ja’Marr Chase: 2 catches, 16 yards (3 targets)

Charlie Jones: 0 catches, 0 yards (1 target)

Tyler Boyd: 0 catches, 0 yards (1 target)

Tee Higgins: 1 catch, 13 yards (4 targets)

Week 4. Colts: 1 catch, 38 yards (3 targets)

Alec Pierce: 1 catch, 38 yards (2 targets)

Michael Pittman Jr.: 0 catches, 0 yards (1 target)

Week 5. Eagles: 3 catches, 23 yards, TD (6 targets)

AJ Brown: 1 catch, 12 yards (2 targets)

Dallas Goedert: 1 catch, 6 yards, TD (1 target)

Kenneth Gainwell: 0 catches, 0 yards (1 target)

Quez Watkins: 1 catch, 5 yards (1 target)

DeVonta Smith: 0 catches, 0 yards (1 target)

Week 6. Cardinals: 2 catches, 24 yards (6 targets)

Keaontay Ingram: 1 catch, 2 yards (1 target)

Zach Pascal: 0 catches, 0 yards (1 target)

Marquise Brown: 1 catch, 22 yards (4 targets)

Week 7. Steelers: 5 catches, 70 yards (7 targets)

George Pickens: 3 catches, 59 yards (5 targets)

Najee Harris: 1 catch, 4 yards (1 target)

Allen Robinson: 1 catch, 7 yards (1 target)

Week 8. Cowboys: 5 catches, 68 yards, TD (7 targets)

CeeDee Lamb: 3 catches, 29 yards (4 targets)

Brandin Cooks: 1 catch, 25 yards, TD (1 target)

Michael Gallup: 1 catch, 14 yards (1 target)

Jalen Tolbert: 0 catches, 0 yards (1 target)

Week 9. Packers: 1 catch, 17 yards (2 targets)

Romeo Doubs: 1 catch, 17 yards (1 target)

Christian Watson: 0 catches, 0 yards (1 target)

Week 11. Seahawks: 3 catches, 59 yards, TD (5 targets)

DK Metcalf: 2 catches, 61 yards (2 targets)

Jaxon Smith-Njigba: 0 catches, 0 yards (1 target)

D’Wayne Eskridge: 0 catches, 0 yards (1 target)

Zach Charbonnet: 1 catch, -2 yards (1 target)

Week 12. Cardinals: 2 catches, 23 yards (7 targets)

Marquise Brown: 1 catch, 17 yards (2 targets)

Trey McBride: 1 catch, 6 yards (1 target)

Greg Dortch: 0 catches, 0 yards (4 targets)

Week 13. Browns: 3 catches, 36 yards (10 targets)

Amari Cooper: 2 catches, 28 yards (3 targets)

Elijah Moore: 1 catch, 8 yards (4 targets)

Cedric Tillman: 0 catches, 0 yards (2 targets)

David Njoku: 0 catches, 0 yards (1 target)

As you can see Witherspoon is rolling. He’s only given up more than four catches in a game twice this season and he’s held teams to under 40 yards in nine of 12 games played this season. Just this past week the Browns challenged him and threw his way 10 times, Witherspoon had the Browns receivers strapped for the most part. So, as great as Witherspoon has been for the Rams this year the question is: just how well does he stack up with the best Rams cornerbacks in recent memory? Well, here’s that information courtesy of Pro Football Focus again. This is Ahkello Witherspoon vs. the previous Rams starting boundary corners through their first 13 weeks of action.

Ahkello Witherspoon (2023): 21/47, 420 YDs, 3 TDs, 10 FIs, 8 PBUs - 457 SNAPS / 74 MAN (69.0 RTG)

Derion Kendrick (2023): 30/66, 348 YDs, 2 TDs, 6 FIs, 5 PBUs - 430 SNAPS / 75 MAN (84.4 RTG)

Jalen Ramsey (2022): 41/58, 477 YDs, 7 TDs, 9 FIs, 8 PBUs - 454 SNAPS / 44 MAN (127.7 RTG)

Jalen Ramsey (2021): 45/66, 419 YDs, 2 TDs, 10 FIs, 8 PBUs - 467 SNAPS / 77 MAN (76.5 RTG)

Darious Williams (2020): 26/56, 338 YDs, 2 TDs, 12 FIs, 9 PBUs - 458 SNAPS / 68 MAN (48.1 RTG)

Jalen Ramsey (2020): 25/50, 227 YDs, 3 TDs, 3 FIs, 3 PBUs - 467 SNAPS / 66 MAN (74.3 RTG)

Marcus Peters (2018): 43/61, 674 YDs, 6 TDs, 4 FIs, 3 PBUs - 441 SNAPS / 158 MAN (126.0 RTG)

Kayvon Webster (2017): 26/46, 300 YDs, TD, 7 FIs, 6 PBUs - 362 SNAPS / 141 MAN (83.6 RTG)

Trumaine Johnson (2017): 44/73, 657 YDs, TD, 10 FIs, 6 PBUs - 465 SNAPS / 195 MAN (83.0 RTG)

It’s pretty remarkable when you take into account the fact that this Rams defense is built entirely from within.

Outside of Witherspoon himself, just about everyone on the defense has been added via the draft or college free agency. Witherspoon doesn’t have the benefit of a Von Miller or Leonard Floyd off the edge, he doesn’t have Ramsey or Darious Williams next to him. It makes what he’s doing that much more difficult and that much more impressive in the same breath. So, how good is No.44? He’s really good.

The Rams have to love what they have received out of Witherspoon this year.

Quite honestly, it’s safe to say through the first 13 weeks of the season Witherspoon might be having the best season of any corner in the McVay era. You could argue Ramsey in 2021 is up there, Darious Williams in 2020 and Kayvon Webster in 2017 deserves a mention. However, Witherspoon is doing more with less. It’s not to discredit the young defensive line, they have done their part but they aren’t dominant. It’s not the same front-seven that sacked Joe Burrow a record-tying seven times. That’s just not what this defense is and that’s okay.

Again, Witherspoon doesn’t have the benefit of playing in an elite defense. You have to credit Aubrey Pleasant and what he’s done since his return to the Rams, Raheem Morris as defensive coordinator and of course Aaron Donald who makes everything a little easier for everyone. However, you have to credit Witherspoon for once again going out there and establishing himself as a feared cornerback. A legitimate force to be reckoned with. Teams aren’t having success throwing at him. He hasn’t given up more than 70 yards this year in any game. The fact that his stats are comparable to Ramsey, Williams and other great big names over the years for the team is an indicator that the Rams found something in Witherspoon.

Now, it’s important to realize that Witherspoon isn’t just a one-year wonder. He’s played at a high level before in his career he just never seemed to really get that chance and that overall belief in him. I feel the Rams have put him in the best position for him to succeed. Here are his career numbers compared to this season.

2023 w/ Rams: 21/47, 420 YDs, 3 TDs, 10 FIs, 8 PBUs - 457 SNAPS / 74 MAN (69.0 RTG) -12 games

2022 w/ Steelers: 22/29, 264 YDs, 4 TDs, 1 FI, 1 PBU - 162 SNAPS / 64 MAN (128.4 RTG) - 4 games

2021 w/ Steelers: 16/33, 264 YDs, TD, 5 FIs, 5 PBUs - 234 SNAPS / 92 MAN (48.0 RTG) - 9 games

2020 w/ 49ers: 16/28, 166 YDs, 2 TDs, 5 FIs, 3 PBUs - 210 SNAPS / 57 MAN (83.3 RTG) - 8 games

2019 w/ 49ers: 29/53, 404 YDs, 6 TDs, 8 FIs, 5 PBUs - 359 SNAPS / 90 MAN (109.3 RTG) - 10 games

2018 w/ 49ers: 37/68, 425 YDs, 5 TDs, 9 FIs, 1 PBU - 431 SNAPS / 117 MAN (98.0 RTG) - 13 games

2017 w/ 49ers: 37/61, 569 YDs, 3 TDs, 6 FIs, 4 PBUs - 481 SNAPS / 134 MAN (94.2 RTG) - 16 games

Is his career body of work perfect? No, it’s certainly not.

However, its worth noting there are things to work with here. Ahkello has also done a nice job of limiting completions against him. The thing about Witherspoon is that he stand at 6-foot-3 and runs a 4.4 forty. He plays for the trail due to his length and his recovery speed, however, to the casual viewer it may appear as if Witherspoon is getting burned. The reality is, Witherspoon is an orthodox cornerback that doesn’t play smash mouth and in your face style corner. Instead, Witherspoon plays more relaxed and makes it look effortless because of how smooth of a mover he is and how methodical he is. He’s going to use the sideline to his advantage to guide receivers out of bounds.

I think for years there has been a misconception about Witherspoon. Steelers fans left asking why he’s playing so well with the Rams and 49ers fans as well. The problem with that is he’s always flashed the why and he’s put together quality seasons. Corner play is genuinely so tough in the NFL and it’s ruthless when it comes to fan reactions.

Many felt Witherspoon was getting burned all the time but so much more goes into it. What we are seeing now is the makings of a top cornerback playing in a scheme he’s comfortable with, a coaching staff he believes in and around a bunch of players he trusts. Ahkello is really turning it up and appears to be getting even better. Just imagine what he could do with a guy like Ramsey next to him, or if the Rams had a Josh Allen/Brian Burns level pass rusher on the opposite side of Byron Young or even if he was in the star role.

The question for a lot of people this year has been whether or not Witherspoon would be brought back next year. I would imagine that’s definitely in the cards. It’s really all about the money, the Rams will be in a much better position to go out and pay players this off-season so we could see a return for Witherspoon. In my mind, this is the beginning of the new Rams era and it feels only fitting that a player like Witherspoon that has been helping to set the foundation in place for the Rams future is a part of it to see it through all the way to a Lombardi.