Illinois Football Gets Another Player in the NFL Pro Bowl

The University of Illinois football program continues to see success at the professional level, as the Seattle Seahawks rookie Devon Witherspoon has been selected to represent the NFC in the 2024 Pro Bowl Games. Witherspoon becomes just the third player in Illini football history to earn this prestigious honor in their first NFL season.

Devon’s selection marks back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances for Illinois football under the current head coach Bret Bielema. The 23-year-old follows in the footsteps of special teamer Justin Hardee, who joined the New York Jets in 2021 and made it to the Pro Bowl in 2023.

According to the official schedule obtained by ESPN, the 2024 Pro Bowl Games are set to kick off on Thursday, February 1st, and will extend until Sunday, February 4th at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.

Devon Witherspoon’s Impressive Rookie Campaign at Lumen Field

Drafted fifth overall by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2023 NFL Draft, Witherspoon wasted no time making an impact for the Blue Wave. Through 13 games, the rookie cornerback has started all but one contest and proven himself a key defensive playmaker. 

Witherspoon currently leads all Seahawks with 68 total tackles on the season to go along with 3 sacks. He has also broken up 16 passes and recorded one interception. His consistent production has helped transform Seattle into a top 10 defense outfit. 

His head coach Pete Carroll raved about Witherspoon’s advanced skill set and maturity during training camp. It was evident then that the Florida native had all the tools necessary to make an immediate impact at the pro level. 

In addition to leading his team in interceptions and passes defended, Witherspoon quickly established himself as one of the top shutdown corners across the entire league. He leads NFL rookies with his 16 passes defensed, which places him fifth on the overall league leaderboard. Meanwhile, his 68 tackles place him fifth among rookies, while his 3.0 sacks rank him 11th among first-timers in the NFL this season.

The 23-year-old Florida native joins a star-studded cornerback squad for the 2024 NFC Pro Bowl team which includes Cowboys’ Daron Bland, 49ers’ Charvarius Ward, and Bears’ Jaylon Johnson. He was selected alongside two fellow Seahawks, safety Julian Love and linebacker Bobby Wagner, with Wagner earning his ninth career appearance.

Meanwhile, with the 2024 NFL playoffs in full swing, outright odds provided by popular Illinois sportsbooks show that San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens are Super Bowl LVIII favorites. Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, and Detroit Lions are far third, fourth, and fifth favorites to lift the trophy at the Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nevada.

Witherspoon Joins Elite Company

By being chosen for the 2024 Pro Bowl roster, Witherspoon etched his name into the Illinois record books forever. He now joins an exclusive club of former Fighting Illini stars like Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke, Kevin Hardy, Howard Griffith, Dana Howard, Jeff George, Brandon Lloyd, Red Grange, J Leman, Mikel Leshoure, and Whitney Mercilus who ascended to the NFL’s peak showcase game. 

However, he is only the third player in Illinois football history to be named to the Pro Bowl roster in their debut campaign. The last Illini to achieve the feat in their first NFL season was Hall of Famer Dick Butkus back in 1965. Butkus went on to a legendary career as one of the most dominant linebackers in history with the Chicago Bears.

The other Fighting Illini player to break into the Pro Bowl scene in their rookie year was J.C. Caroline. He was selected to play for the NFC Pro Bowl team in 1956 and went on to achieve great success with the Chicago Bears.

Bob Trumpy, a former Illini player, achieved the honor of being selected for the Pro Bowl during his rookie year in 1968 with the Cincinnati Bengals. However, he concluded his collegiate football career at the University of Utah after transferring from Illinois.

More recently, New York Jets special teamer Justin Hardee was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2023, continuing a successful NFL career after starring as a wide receiver for Illinois. Witherspoon now joins this elite fraternity as the only other rookie in program history to earn Pro Bowl recognition in the last decade.

Aside from Devon and Hardee, Illinois football has fielded one other former player in the Pro Bowl in the last decade. Vontae Davis represented the Indianapolis Colts in both 2014 and 2015, playing as a cornerback.

2024 NFC Pro Bowl Squad

In addition to Witherspoon, several other standout NFC players were voted into the 2024 Pro Bowl roster by fans, coaches, and players. At quarterback, Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers was voted in as the starter after throwing for 4,200 yards and 40 touchdowns during another MVP-caliber season. Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady also returns for yet another Pro Bowl appearance as one of football’s ageless wonders.

The running back group is led by Dallas Cowboys Tony Pollard, joined by San Francisco 49ers bruiser Christian McCaffrey and Atlanta Falcons playmaker Cordarrelle Patterson. At wide receiver, Minnesota Vikings superstar Justin Jefferson and Los Angeles Rams Offensive Player of the Year Cooper Kupp were chosen alongside Detroit Lion breakout rookie Jameson Williams and rising quarterback Jared Goff.

The NFC roster is also loaded at tight end with San Francisco All-Pro George Kittle, Tampa Bay’s Kyle Rudolph, and Philadelphia Eagles rookie Grant Calcaterra all earning trips to Las Vegas. They’re joined by Cowboys’ Zack Martin and Tyron Smith and New Orleans Saints stalwart Ryan Ramczyk. They’re paired with Philadelphia guard Landon Dickerson and Vikings mountain Brian O’Neill.

Wrapping Up

Illinois football celebrates back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances with rookie cornerback Devon Witherspoon’s selection. His selection continues the program’s comeback under the leadership of head coach Bret Bielema, who is building a winning culture and developing NFL talent once again in Champaign. 

There is no doubt that Witherspoon has a very bright future ahead as he continues developing his game at the NFL level. His rare blend of size, athleticism, instincts, and intelligence are the perfect traits for an elite shutdown corner.