The lights of Broadway are only a couple miles across the river from MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands of New Jersey, so the stage was fitting for the emergence of a young star of the highest magnitude.
Rookie cornerback Devon Witherspoon will be the focus of every story out of the Seattle Seahawks’ 24-3 win over the New York Giants – as he should.
Based on this performance, I’m going to take it a step further, well into the future, where I see Witherspoon becoming one of the team’s all-time greats. Yes, he looks that good already.
They haven’t had a rookie flash this brilliantly, this early, since Kenny Easley arrived as a fully formed secondary stud in 1981.
Cortez Kennedy was a force of nature on the defensive line of an awful 1992 club. He earned Defensive Player of the Year honors that year, but that was in his second season. He started just two games as a rookie in 1991.
And while it may sound heretical to some Seattle fans, Witherspoon, in just his third game, is more mature and dominant at this tender stage than any of the spectacular secondary players that would go on to comprise Seattle’s legendary Legion of Boom.
Seriously. I watched all those guys come in and find their way. Witherspoon isn’t there, yet, of course, but he’s getting there faster. He already seems to benefit from the same strands of competitive DNA that drove Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
Taken from Illinois with the fifth overall pick in this spring’s draft, Witherspoon missed much of the preseason, and also the regular-season opener, rehabbing from a hamstring injury.
Not only was this just his third start, he was moved inside as a slot corner for the first time. Fair to say he adapted rather quickly.
Picture him at full health and some NFL experience to call upon. And then add him at corner on the other side of Riq Woolen, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last year.
His numbers on Monday: seven tackles, two sacks, three quarterback hits and a 97-yard interception return for a touchdown. He will be the league’s defensive player of the week, and it takes very little imagination to project him – with good health – as a Pro Bowler this season and perhaps for many years to come.
I know, take a breath, Dave. The Giants are a mess right now. That wasn’t much of a test, and let’s wait and see what happens against San Francisco and Dallas and Philadelphia down the road.
But the raw numbers don’t tell the whole story; Witherspoon makes it look so easy, and plays with such a surprising physicality for a 185-pounder. He’s this productive yet clearly is still learning.
Remember when critics questioned the selection of Witherspoon with the fifth pick instead of Georgia’s Jalen Carter? Well, Carter looks great so far, but Witherspoon is exactly a game-changer the Hawks’ needed.
The Seahawks specifically could use a performance like his, along with the rest of the productive defenders, to salve the dramatic loss of safety Jamal Adams. Adams left in the first period under concussion protocol after registering a sack and a couple forceful tackles in his first game back since last season’s opener, when he tore his quadriceps.
He led the Hawks with 9.5 sacks in 2020, the most by a secondary player, but he tore a labrum in ’21 and battled to rehab only to tear the quad last year. Now, after another year of rehabbing, he was knocked out in the first quarter of his return.
While the play of Witherspoon was the marquee effort, sometimes wins are accommodated by the depth-chart guys, the understudies who have to step in for injured starters.
It’s in games like this one that we discover the quality of the roster construction, top to bottom. In addition to Witherspoon, fellow rookie draft choices like running back Zach Charbonnet, guard Anthony Bradford and center Olu Oluwatimi stepped in and performed well.
The Hawks had come into the game without starting tackles Charles Cross and Abe Lucas, who were replaced by Shane Forsythe and Jake Curhan, and injuries to the starting guards forced Bradford and Oluwatimi into action.
The value of their play was more than just the win Monday, but experience they can call upon later in the season when they might be needed again.
The Seahawks next get a bye for some much-needed healing, but they hit this point with a 3-1 record – and one more legitimate star in the making.