IV: Did this DB earn the right to return to the secondary in 2024?
If you asked anyone but the most hardcore Rams fan to name the starting secondary for the LA Rams before the 2023 NFL season, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who could correctly name a single player on the team's secondary. It's not that they were unknown players. It's the fact that they had done little to nothing to be known as pass defenders for this defense.
One such player who was out of the NFL spotlight is defensive back Ahkello Witherspoon. Despite signing with the team at the end of June 2023, he not only earned a starting role in the secondary, but he was arguably the best performer in pass defense. He was able to play in 1040 defensive snaps in 2023, which was 94 percent of the defense.
While the 6-foot-2 195-pound outside cornerback saw little relief over 17 games, he showed why he was difficult to rest. He accumulated 52 tackles, 14 deflected passes, three tackles for a loss, three interceptions, and two fumble recoveries.
In pass defense, he only allowed 51 completions out of 106 targets, holding his receiver assignments to only a 48.1 percent catch rate. Best of all, he was willing to accomplish all of this at the league minimum salary. So why would there be any doubt as to whether the team would exetend him?
Well, he was a bit of feast or famine in pass coverage, as he allowed five touchdowns. Compound that was his 14.8 percent missed tackles rate. For a starting outside cornerback, you would like to see better numbers. But the big challenge is the fact that his effectiveness plunged considerably in the playoffs. He made two tackles but allowed four completions out of just five targets. That prompted the folks at Pro Football Focus to drop his regular season grade from a respectable mark of 64.3 to a concerning 48.7.
That makes a pretty shaky case for any extensions.
How does this impact the team's offseason strategy?
If the team does not plan to re-sign Witherspoon, or fails to do so, then the team will need to prioritize drafting a very promising defensive back early in the 2024 NFL Draft. Veteran DBs who can supply formidable pass defense have no shortage of teams eager to offer lucrative contracts. It was the fact that Ahkello Witherspoon was coming back from a serious injury that dropped his value for 2023.
Of course, if the right defensive back falls to the Rams during the draft, the team will pull the trigger. But the priority and frequency of how quickly and how often the team addresses the secondary during the draft hinges a great deal on whether or not the team is willing to extend Witherspoon through 2024.