With the re-signing of Ndamukong Suh last week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will return all of the key pieces to a defensive unit which looked much improved over the final eight games of the 2019 season.
Prioritizing the group was made known publicly and behind closed doors at the Bucs’ team facility, and being successful in their efforts is an underrated part of winning this off-season for the organization.
However, despite all the success, the free-safety position continues to be one without a definitive answer.
Andrew Adams started the most at the position in 2019, and is returning for 2020. To say he’s cemented the starting job would be a reach however, and a guy like Antoine Winfield Jr. could come in via the NFL Draft and challenge immediately.
With that in mind, lets take a deeper look at the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ defensive prospect.
Antoine Winfield Jr. Collegiate Career
It's Unanimous! #Gophers @AntoineWJr11 is school's first unanimous All-American since 2005. https://t.co/HNZVVOHER5#SkiUMah // #RTB pic.twitter.com/XyxtGHp9mS— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) December 19, 2019
Spending four years with the Golden Gophers, Winfield Jr. played in 30 games totaling 172 tackles (122 solo), four sacks and nine interceptions including seven in his final season with the team.
The versatile defensive back also returned three punts in 2018, taking one all the way in for a score.
Despite being at school for four seasons, Winfield Jr. finished as a redshirt Sophomore because of injuries which caused him to appear in just four games in 2017 and 2018. Before the injuries, Winfield Jr. was a nine-game starter as a freshman with an 82-yard pick-six under his belt and limitless potential.
By the end of his collegiate career, staying healthy for a complete season was the biggest win, and starting all 13 games in 2019 will surely help calm concerns NFL teams and leaders might have moving into 2020 and the future.
The word which has become so popular under Bruce Arians and his coaching staff is: Versatility. When it comes to being a versatile player, Winfield Jr. might be one of the most diverse defensive backs in this year’s class.
Capable of covering receivers and tackling ball-carriers, Winfield Jr. has the range to play single-high or in man coverage, and the willingness and skill to play in the box and hold his own. While he doesn’t flash as the most complete athelete you’ll ever see at the safety position, his intelligence and ability to read the field aids in his ability to diagnose and anticipate what the offense is doing.
Not known for his speed, but his 4.45 40-yard time at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine was faster than Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah (4.48), Lenoir-Rhyne’s Kyle Dugger (4.49), and matched Southern Illinois’ Jeremy Chinn (4.45).
The injury history is sure to give pause to some NFL decision makers. Although, it’s important to note each injury shortened season was due to different ailments, one being a hamstring and the other a foot injury.
He’s small. No way around it. At the NFL Scouting Combine, Winfield Jr. came in at 5’9 and 203 pounds. With his lack of height, comes lack of length, and trusting him to cover deep as an NFL safety is going to be predicated on his ability to keep opposing offenses from going over the top of him in coverage.
Made a lot of his plays in college because of what appears to be a higher level of football IQ than a lot of his competition. When this advantage gets reduced at the professional level, there are questions about whether or not he’ll be able to continue the same style of play in the NFL.
Why The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Need Antoine Winfield Jr.
Most college prospects don’t come into the league maxed out on football IQ. Meaning Winfield Jr. projects to get even smarter about how to play as a defensive back, and how to adapt to the game. Being short isn’t new to him, and he’s succeeded in a Power-5 college football conference, despite it.
He wouldn’t be the first safety considered shorter than desired, and he has the pedigree and track record to reinforce the idea he can make it happen at the next level.
Beyond his potential, the Bucs don’t have a secure answer at the free-safety position, and Winfield Jr. gives them just one more option to consider when sorting it out.
Even in a stacked room, with Adams returning, Mike Edwards looking to build on his rookie experience, and Justin Evans even potentially coming back from his latest injury, the team would be wise to add talent and upside to the group.
Winfield Jr.’s history with special teams only helps sweeten the pot.
Should It Happen?
If given the opportunity to grab Winfield Jr. off the board during day two, Jason Licht and the Buccaneers should absolutely hold this prospect in high regard.
His mentality and play style fits what Todd Bowles is trying to get done on defense, and his personality projects to fit great with the other young talented defensive backs on the roster.
Even if he doesn’t come in and grab the starting job from day one, his influence and ability will ensure he makes the roster, and gives the defense and special teams more ways to attack Tampa’s opponents in 2020.
Mock Draft Monday on the Locked On Bucs Podcast!
It’s time now for you all to let us know what you think? If the Buccaneers have the opportunity to draft Antoine Winfield Jr. on day two of the 2020 NFL Draft, what would you do?
How do you feel about Antoine Winfield Jr. for the Bucs in the 2020 NFL Draft?
This poll is closed
Draft Him No Matter What
Trade Back Candidate
I Wouldn’t Mind It
There Are Better Options