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Friday Round-Up: ESPN Ranks Devon Witherspoon Top-5 Rookie; Seahawks No.7 Rookie Class in End-of-Year Recap

ESPN wrapped up their superlatives for the 2023 rookie class, with high praise for top-selection Devon Witherspoon, and the Seahawks draft class as a whole.

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Good morning, 12s. Here's a look at what's out there today — Friday, January 19 — about your Seattle Seahawks.

Seahawks No. 5 overall selection in the 2023 draft, cornerback Devon Witherspoon, ranks fifth on ESPN's Best 2023 Rookies list. Seattle ranks top-10 for their 2023 10-man class.

Witherspoon became one of three rookies league-wide, and the only one on defense, to earn a Pro-Bowl nod after recording 79 combined tackles, 3.0 sacks, 16 passes defensed, eight tackles for loss, one interception, a 97-yard pick-six. and a forced fumble across 14 games. The Fighting Illini alum has earned his fair share of praise for his versatile play, dominating at both nickel cornerback and on the boundary. This month, Witherspoon was named to CBS Sports’ All-Rookie Team and Pro Football Focus’ All-Pro TeamPFF then named the Pensacola, Florida native the 2023 Defensive Rookie of the Year, earning an 84.1 overall grade per their metric system.

In ESPN's latest rookie rankings, a group of the network's top experts (Matt Bowen, Jeff Legwold, Brooke Pryor, Matt Miller and Jordan Reid) collaborated to pick a Top-10 from the 2023 class. Matt Miller provides context to why Witherspoon comes in at No.5.

Stats:79 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 INT, 1 defensive TD, 12 pass breakups
Drafted:No. 5 overall

2023 recap:Witherspoon quickly lived up to his status as the first cornerback drafted with shutdown ability. He collected one interception, which he ran back 97 yards for a touchdown, while limiting opposing quarterbacks to a completion percentage of 60.5% with 16 passes defensed. Witherspoon emerged as not just the best rookie cornerback but also one of the best pure cover players in the league.

2024 outlook: We saw 2022 draftee Riq Woolen collect six interceptions in his rookie season before struggling at times in 2023, so there's reason for caution as Seattle moves on from the Pete Carroll era defensively. That said, Witherspoon was my top-ranked corner in the '23 draft class for good reason. He has the agility, toughness and instincts to become one of the NFL's top cornerbacks in his sophomore season.* -- Miller*

On Wednesday, ESPN writer Aaron Schatz ranked the production of all 32 rookie classes league-wide, using metric data compiled by Sports Info Solutions’ Total Points system. The data examines each player on every play, rewarding points for how well a player aided in an offense's success or defensive stoppage. Schatz breaks down Seattle's seventh-place ranking amongst the league's 32 teams.

The Seahawks' two first-round picks were their two most valuable rookies in 2023. Cornerback Devon Witherspoon ranked as the No. 2 defensive rookie in Total Points behind Branch of the Lions. He had a better than average minus-12% DVOA in coverage plus three sacks and a pick-six on his way to the **Pro Bowl**. Wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba had 63 catches for 628 yards and four touchdowns, though he graded out as slightly below average in receiving DVOA.

Beyond the first-rounders, second-round running back Zach Charbonnet had108 carries for 462 yards and a touchdown backing up Kenneth Walker III. Undrafted wide receiver Jake Bobo had 19 catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns. Fourth-round pick Anthony Bradford started much of the year at right guard, although he ranked second to last among qualifying guards in pass block win rate (85.5%). Fifth-round center Olu Oluwatimi played some as well. One disappointment was second-round edge rusher Derick Hall, who had no sacks and only five pressures while playing roughly 25% of Seattle's defensive snaps. But this was the second straight strong rookie class for the Seahawks, who were the top-ranked team in this piece a year ago.

There's plenty of room for improvement for the 9-8 Seahawks heading into 2024, and the future of a promising class that can help the franchise return to dominance, reminiscent of times within the past decade. With a top-10 group of players heading into Year-2 led by Witherspoon, there's plenty to be optimistic about regarding the future of football in the Pacific Northwest.

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