Skip to main content

'Our Type of Guy': Falcons a Free Agency Fit for Rams Ex Ahkello Witherspoon

Former Los Angeles Rams cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon could be an Atlanta Falcons free agency target due to his past ties with Raheem Morris.

Atlanta Falcons head coach Raheem Morris calls Ahkello Witherspoon by the nickname 'Motown' - but Witherspoon hails from Sacramento, California.

When Morris was the Los Angeles Rams' defensive coordinator, he brought Witherspoon into the cornerbacks room, a young group featuring second-year pros Decobie Durant and Derion Kendrick.

The 28-year-old Witherspoon offered the cool, calm, collected presence needed for the group - best reflected by the music taste that earned him his nickname.

"You got your two young guys, Decobie and DK, basically out there rapping," Morris said Dec. 7. "And then you got this smooth R&B guy on the other side that's just over there listening to Motown music with my mom and dad."

Morris still remembers his first phone call with Witherspoon, which was initiated by the 6-2, 195-pound corner. Morris liked Witherspoon's length but wasn't sure the Rams truly needed his services.

Sep 25, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Los Angeles Rams cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (44) reacts after intercepting the ball in the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium.

Sep 25, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Los Angeles Rams cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (44) reacts after intercepting the ball in the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium.

Los Angeles was confident in Durant and Kendrick, and Morris expressed as such - but Witherspoon impressed with the way he handled the conversation, and shortly thereafter, he signed a one-year contract with the Rams.

"We were just talking about what it looks like, who plays what, what kind of defense we’re structured in, and he was really into all of those things and where he might fit and how he would go about our business," Morris said. "We were very honest and upfront how excited we were about some of the younger guys and how they would fit in that.

"So, I was really honest with those things. And I think he really respected the fact of how honest we both were."

Witherspoon also spoke with Rams head coach Sean McVay, defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant and safeties coach Chris Beake.

Chemistry was established early in the phone call. It translated to Los Angeles.

"I just remember that carrying over for a while until he got there," Morris said. "He really took it to heart, and I think he really wanted to be a part of the environment and part of the situation that he was in. You got to put everybody in a part of that. You got to put the building in a part of that, him, the amount of research that he did.

"It's worked out for us well."

A third-round pick out of Colorado in 2016, Witherspoon spent the first four years of his career with the San Francisco 49ers. He started 33 of the 40 games he appeared in out west, making 117 tackles, four interceptions and defending 24 passes.

Thereafter, Witherspoon signed a one-year contract with the Seattle Seahawks, but he was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers before the start of the season.

Witherspoon was in Pittsburgh for each of the next two years, playing in 13 games with seven starts. His 2022 season was cut short due to a hamstring injury, as he took the field for only four contests. He was cut by Pittsburgh after the season.

Armed with six years of experience and a clear understanding of what he was walking into, Witherspoon's stint in Los Angeles started well and continued into a mutually beneficial pairing for both sides.

"What a wonderful addition he's been to the group," Morris said Oct. 5. "He's got this calm presence. He's got this real cool demeanor. Kind of looks like a rockstar little bit mentality when you're talking to him, but I love what he's brought. I love what he continues to grow with the guys."

Witherspoon is curious, asking the types of questions that elevate a room. He and Kendrick played off each other well, offering composure, Morris said.

But Witherspoon's relationships extended beyond players - he and Pleasant did yoga together, creating a close bond with his position coach.

In an inexperienced secondary, Witherspoon provided the veteran ingredient needed while flourishing individually, starting all 17 games and matching his career high with three interceptions.

Additionally, Witherspoon set new career highs with 52 tackles, three tackles for loss and 14 passes defended.

The environment fit, as did the coaching. In short, the Morris-Witherspoon combination worked well in Los Angeles ... for both sides.

"He's brought so much with his technique and his question asking and what he learned from us and what we continue to learn from him," Morris said. "All of those things will go hand in hand when you got a guy that’s got as much experience as he has, has been through some different experiences like he has been.

"It's been a couple different places, had some success, had some failures, and been able to bounce back and (is) playing really well for us."

Atlanta's secondary has a pair of mid-tier veteran staples in cornerback A.J. Terrell and safety Jessie Bates III, but questions persist beyond them.

At corner, the Falcons are expected to let cornerback Jeff Okudah enter free agency, leaving now-second-year pro Clark Phillips III and third-year Falcon Dee Alford as the next best options.

The 5-10, 183-pound Phillips started the final five games at outside corner opposite Terrell and played well, but Witherspoon brings more size and experience. Alford's spent much of his career in the nickel.

With over $37 million in cap space, the Falcons have options. Witherspoon, be it as a starter or depth piece, is certainly viable - and he's already on good terms with Morris.

"He's very smart, he's sharp, he's detailed," Morris said Aug. 3. "He's our type of guy."