After selecting offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs with their first selection in the 2020 NFL Draft on Thursday night, the Buccaneers entered Friday night’s second round in a good position. There was a lot of talent left on the board, and by pick No. 45, Tampa Bay had a fair share of intriguing players to choose from.
In a slight surprise, the Bucs didn’t choose to address their backfield—well, not their offensive backfield, at least. Instead, they added to their defensive backfield, going with safety Antoine Winfield Jr. out of the University of Minnesota. Here, we have three things you need to know about him.
His successful career with the Golden Gophers ended on his new home field
Winfield’s career at Minnesota had its share of ups and downs, though as a whole, it was a wildly successful one. As a freshman in 2016, he started nine of the 12 games he played in, racking up 52 tackles, three pass breakups, a fumble recovery and an interception, which he returned for a touchdown. That’s a solid debut season, but unfortunately, it was followed by back-to-back frustrating years in 2017 and 2018.
In 2017, the 5-foot-9, 203-pound safety played in the Golden Gophers’ first four games before missing the rest of the season with an injury. He was granted a medical hardship waiver by the NCAA, then earned yet another year of eligibility after being limited to four games again in 2018. In those four games, though, he totaled 17 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery in addition to returning three punts for 110 yards and a touchdown.
The bumpiness was over after 2018 for Winfield, as he absolutely shined in 2019. He started all 13 games of Minnesota’s outstanding 11-2 season, finishing with a team-high 88 tackles (62 solo, 3.5 for loss), three sacks, two forced fumbles and a program record-tying SEVEN interceptions.
His 2019 saw him earn plenty of accolades as well. He was a unanimous All-American, the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year and a member of the All-Big Ten First Team. Plus, after being a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar in 2018-19, he earned Academic All-Big Ten honors for the third straight year in 2019 and was awarded a CoSida Academic All-District nod for the first time.
And yes, as noted above, his fantastic college career ended at Raymond James Stadium, his new home field. His final game was this year’s Outback bowl, in which No. 18 Minnesota took down No. 12 Auburn by a score of 31-24. In that game, Winfield had five tackles, which tied him for third most on the team.
So, whenever the Bucs play at Ray Jay for the first time in 2020, it won’t technically be the young safety’s debut in the stadium. He’s played—and won—there before.
He is the son of former NFL Pro Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield
Winfield Jr. isn’t the first in his family to play at the NFL level. If his name sounds familiar, that’s because his dad played 14 seasons in the league. After winning the Jim Thorpe Award—given to the nation’s best defensive back—while at Ohio State, Winfield was selected by the Buffalo Bills with the No. 23 pick in the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft. He played for the Bills for five seasons before moving on to finish his career in Minnesota, playing there from 2004-2012.
In his 14-year career as a cornerback, Winfield made three Pro Bowls and totaled 1,094 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 27 interceptions, 117 passes defended, 14 forced fumbles and 11 fumble recoveries. And to make things even more interesting, Winfield matched up against Tom Brady seven times in his career. He even intercepted him back in 2001—Brady’s first season as the New England Patriots’ starting quarterback.
Of course, that’s notable because now, Winfield’s son is set to become a teammate of Brady’s down here in Tampa. You’ve got to wonder if that makes the G.O.A.T. feel a little old, no? But it also is a testament to the incredible longevity he has had in the NFL, as he enters his 21st season.
Tampa Bay’s new safety isn’t the only one to follow in his father’s footsteps, as his brother, Austin, plays defensive back at Minnesota as well. That’s a pretty athletic family.
He is truly a do-it-all safety who models his game after the ‘Honey Badger’ Tyrann Mathieu
Winfield Jr. doesn’t bring significant size to the table, but that doesn’t mean he can’t play at an extremely high level. He can do it all from the safety position, playing with exceptional physicality, great instincts and outstanding ball skills. So, like new teammate Mike Edwards, the former Gopher models his game after current Chiefs safety and former LSU standout Tyrann Mathieu, nicknamed “the Honey Badger” thanks to his nose for the ball and unreal playmaking ability.
Winfield Jr. had this to say in a recent SKOR North article about emulating what Mathieu does at the NFL level:
“He’s used in Kansas City as that versatile piece where you’ll see him pretty much anywhere,” Winfield Jr. said. “You see him blitzing, you see him playing in the box, you see him playing in the post, he’s all over the field. And just his mentality of how he plays the game. You know he’s not the biggest guy like myself but you see he has that dog in him to go out there and dominate his opponent no matter no matter how big he is. That’s something that all DBs can relate to.”
Of course, this is even more notable because Mathieu was drafted by Arizona in 2013, when Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles were there. So, if anyone will know how to use Winfield’s skill set, it’s Bowles, right?
So, Bucs fans, that’s Antoine Winfield Jr., your newest safety. You can find him on Twitter at @AntoineWJr11. Be sure to take some time to congratulate him and welcome him to Tampa Bay!