If the last name Winfield sounds familiar, it’s because Antoine Winfield Sr. was one of the better defensive backs in the NFL during the 2000’s. Now, his son, Antoine Winfield Jr., is entering the NFL Draft, and despite not receiving as much attention as other DB prospects in this year’s class, is a fantastic prospect in his own right.
Before being drafted 23rd overall in 1999, Antoine Sr. won the Jim Thorpe Award at Ohio State University.
His son, however, played at Minnesota, OSU’s Big Ten rival. Antoine Jr. played in 10 games as a freshman in 2016, recording 52 tackles, two fumbles recovered, three passes defended, and one interception, which he brought back 82 yards for a touchdown. His freshman season was a glimpse of things to come.
Unfortunately, Gopher fans would have to wait until 2019 to see Winfield Jr. at his best, as he suffered injuries in both 2017 and 2018, for which he was granted medical redshirts.
Winfield Jr. was worth the wait, finishing with 83 tackles, three sacks, two fumbles forced, seven picks, and one TD.
Antoine Winfield Jr. = TOO CLUTCH 🔥 pic.twitter.com/3dN2ER1iZm— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) September 9, 2018
It’s easy to see Winfield Jr. grew up watching his dad very closely. He has an innate feel for the game, and can diagnose plays quickly. There are times where the quarterback is just beginning his throwing motion and Winfield Jr. is already in a full spring to make a play on the ball when it arrives. At times he is fooled by play action, but that is something that can be improved with time and experience. Being able to naturally read a QB’s eyes and body language, while keeping track of multiple receivers? That’s not easy to teach.
In Antoine Winfield Jr. we trust. 〽️ pic.twitter.com/KVIjOlxiwL— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) September 8, 2019
When the ball does arrive, Winfield displays elite ball skills. He’s not looking to simply knock the ball down; he wants to pick it off and run it all the way back. He can out-muscle recievers for the ball, even if they have the size advantage over him.
Winfield Jr. is a willing and able tackler, which is great to see from a safety primarily known for his ability in coverage. He loves to hit people, and shows no hesitation in wrapping up larger tight ends.
Visible in his tackling, Winfield Jr. has a high motor. He is always around the ball, and does his best to run down ballcarriers, even on the opposite side of the field. He is fearless, refusing to let his undersized frame stop him from matching up with tight ends and bigger WRs. He is feisty in man coverage as well.
In 2018, Winfield Jr. returned three punts for 110 yards and a touchdown. He may not fill this role in the NFL, but it’s good to see versatility. His skillset makes him an ideal fit for kickoff coverage as a rookie.
Winfield Jr. is by no means slight, but at a reported 5’10” 205lbs, he’s undersized nonetheless. Against bigger receivers who know how to use their bodies well, he can struggle, especially in man. His size also leads to the potential for injury, given his affinity for tackling.
That injury potential has manifested itself for Winfield, robbing him of nearly two full seasons. In 2017, he missed all but four games due to a hamstring injury. The next season, he again played in only four contests, this time because of a torn foot ligament. Winfield’s play style and frame lend themselves to plenty of opportunity for injury, and given his history, it’s a significant concern moving forward.
Coming out of high school, Winfield Jr. reportedly ran a 40-yard dash time of between 4.27 and 4.35, an elite mark. But unofficial 40 times are notoriously inaccurate, and on tape, Winfield Jr. doesn’t appear to be that fast. The NFL Combine in He isn’t slow, but he doesn’t seem to have that top gear that some of the top safeties have. He won’t be chasing down the Tyreek Hills and Mecole Hardmans of the league, but not many players are. Winfield is aware of his athletic limitations, and usually doesn’t try to do too much. As long as he takes good angles to the ball, he doesn’t run into issues. But the gap between the good athletes and the great ones only widens in the NFL.
It may seem odd to criticize Winfield Jr. for his production given his seven INTs last season, but that’s the thing; he only has one year of elite production. Prior to 2010, he picked off two passes in 18 games. Had he been able to stay healthy in 2018 and put up good numbers, he may be talked about as a first-round prospect. The NFL has seen far too many players have one great year in college and fail to replicate that performance after being drafted. But that’s something that teams will have to figure out about Winfield; is he the real deal, or a one-year wonder?
Antoine Winfield Jr. has some concerns, but overall he is a very good safety prospect, one who should be an instant starter in the NFL. Right now he is projected to be a late second to early third-round pick, but that could change if he has a good showing at the NFL Combine, which begins on February 23rd.