Having been slowed at the start of his rookie season due to a hamstring injury, Devon Witherspoon is most certainly back at full speed.
The 2023 No. 5 overall pick soared to a 97-yard touchdown return off his first career interception to highlight the Seattle Seahawks' 24-3 thumping of the New York Giants on Monday night.
On a banner evening for the Seahawks defense as a whole, Witherspoon's individual efforts glowed, and so too did his head coach.
"I never thought he wouldn't play like this," Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said Monday night of Witherspoon, who became the first rookie since Nick Bosa in 2019 to record two or more sacks and an interception in a game, per NFL Research.
"This is the why we took him. To be active and to show that he gets this game of football, and it comes easy to him. He's an explosive, dynamic player. We got to put him at nickel for the first time. This was a process, getting him back out there. We didn't have enough time, we thought, to have him ready, although he's been working at it the whole time. He did a great job tonight, and you can see why we like him there."
Witherspoon was all over the field and the stat line, posting seven tackles, two of the Seahawks' franchise-tying 11 sacks and four QB pressures. It was the pick-six that left the largest mark on the night, expunging a Giants drive that ventured to the Seahawks 5-yard line and threatened to make it a one-possession game. Instead, Witherspoon went 97 yards the other way and solidified a prime-time rout.
Witherspoon reached a top speed of 20.25 mph on the return, per Next Gen Stats, weaving across the field to pay dirt. He was accompanied by a convoy of teammates, Julian Love and Tariq Woolen, the latter reaching 22.25 mph as a blocker -- the fastest speed on a play from scrimmage this season, per Next Gen.
"Really it was just, don't get caught," Witherspoon said of what was going through his head. "Really mad at Riq and J. Love (Julian Love) because they made me look slow. They kind of walked me down, made me look slow. But shout out to them. I was just trying to get to the box, man. That was an incredible moment for me. First career pick is a pick-six on Monday Night Football. It don't get no better."
It wasn't just Witherspoon's speed that was on display, though, it was the hard-nosed, bring-the-wood play that made him stand apart coming out of Illinois. Witherspoon was a weapon off the edge, as noted by his pair of sacks, but he punished ball-carriers, too. No play was as evident of that as a second-quarter tackle of Gary Brightwell in which he burst off the edge and spun the Giants back like a top with a massive hit.
Witherspoon's start in Seattle wasn't all puppies and rainbows, of course. He was the last first-rounder in the 2023 class to sign his rookie deal and then missed most of training camp and all of the preseason with a hamstring injury.
Said bum hammy forced Witherspoon's Seahawks debut to be delayed. He missed Seattle's season opener -- a startling loss to the Los Angeles Rams. But he's returned and has started every game since.
In front of a prime-time audience, he lowered a boom Monday.
Witherspoon became just the second cornerback since 1982 (when sacks officially began being recorded) to tally multiple sacks and a pick-six in a game, joining the exclusive company of the Carolina Panthers' Captain Munnerlyn in Week 15 of the 2013 season.
"It's a great feeling, though," Witherspoon said of his performance. "I'm going to go home and celebrate, for sure. We're going to have a lot of fun on the plane ride back. I'm just trying to soak it all in."
The Seahawks are flying into their bye week with a three-game winning streak and the satisfaction that their top 2023 pick has arrived.
"A lot of this is natural skill and awareness that he could pick stuff up so soon and be so dynamic in such short order," Carroll said. "He's just going to get better and better. It's a really exciting thing to watch for us."