After Devon Witherspoon came to Seattle to meet with the Seahawks on a pre-draft visit, Pete Carroll came away incredibly impressed with the Illinois cornerback.
Carroll didn't just like the physical talent he saw in Witherspoon, who the Seahawks selected with the fifth pick in Thursday's first-round, but also the overall mentality and makeup of the person, so much so that Carroll compared him to one of the best players he has ever coached, Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu.
"Devon Witherspoon, he's a rare player," Carroll said. "Since the years we've been here, we haven't seen a guy like this. We have not drafted corners high just because we haven't come across a guy of this makeup. It's his athletic ability, it's his speed, it's his playmaking, it's his mentality.
"I haven't come across a guy like this in a long time. The last time I recognized this kind of makeup was back at USC when we had a guy that you guys may know. Troy Polamalu was a guy who had an extraordinary way about the way he played the game, and I saw this connection between what Devon does and how he looks at the game and how he approaches it that just knocked me out. I'm just really excited about this. He's physical, he's tough, he's got an attitude, he's going to bring it, he's going to fit right in with our guys.
Said general manager John Schneider, "Devon is arguably one of the most physical players in the draft, regardless of position… He's going to bring a lot of juice, a lot of energy. Just a smart, energetic guy."
And because the Seahawks had such a high opinion of Witherspoon, it wasn't that hard of a decision to take him fifth overall despite having bigger needs at other positions.
When Schneider was asked if it was difficult to pass on defensive linemen to take Witherspoon, he quickly replied: "No, because we had an order set up and we were ready to rip. There's things that are pretty tempting, right? But you've got to just stay true to what you're doing, and that's what we did."
Schneider added that while there were conversations about trading back from No. 5, "We had two players we definitely weren't going to leave for, and Devon was one of them."
As for that Polamalu comparison, Carroll, who coached the eventual Hall of Famer for his final two seasons at USC, said it really started to come through during their time together at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center when Witherspoon visited earlier this month.
"I sensed it watching him," Carroll said. "The playmaking, the choices he was making to go for it. There are guys along the way that you see that have that kind of a knack and willingness. Jamal is one of those guys who really goes for it. When we met him and got him here—in the combine interview he was pretty quiet and humble about it; I didn't get that sense—but when we got him here, he was wide open. We had a tremendous visit talking about really specific stuff that has to do with the choices he was making, because I was trying to figure it out, where was he coming from? I came out of there thinking, this is one of those guys, he's a special guy. That's why it was so clear to us what we were shooting for."
Carroll went on to say of Witherspoon's unique makeup, "Only guys who have played with Troy would know what I'm talking about, but it's not what he says, it's how he approaches the game and the way he sees his opportunities and stuff. I've always really held Troy in high regard in that sense, and this was the closest I've come to somebody talking and acting and performing like that. I know I said something that challenges a lot of stuff, but I'm just telling you what I feel. He's something. It's going to be exciting for us to incorporate it and find it. He's going to have to come in here and play better than our guys who are playing—he's going to have to compete like everyone else—but if we can corral that and get that all focused in the right direction, he's going to be a real factor for us."
From the red carpet to center stage and beyond, take a look at photos from throughout cornerback Devon Witherspoon and wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba's draft day in Kansas City.