It definitely caught people’s attention when Antoine Winfield Jr. was listed as a starter on the Bucs’ first depth chart of the 2020 season.
But it was in a good way. Winfield Jr. had a strong camp and many were already hoping that he would win a starting spot when he was selected with the 45th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Winfield Jr. showed why he earned the job on Sunday. The rookie safety didn’t have any highlight reel-type plays, but instead had a solid performance. He certainly looked like he belonged on the field.
Per Pro Football Focus, he graded out as the fourth-best rookie on Sunday. PFF had this to say about the former Golden Gopher:
“Tampa Bay got great value in Winfield at Pick No. 5 of the 2020 NFL Draft, and he verified that with his near-flawless Week 1. He showed off his playmaking ability with a nice pass breakup in the end zone in the fourth quarter and generated pressure on one of his two blitzes. Overall, Winfield produced a 77.3 PFF grade, seventh among all safeties in Week 1. He was one of the top playmakers in college football at Minnesota a year ago; it looks like he might be the same way in the NFL for the Buccaneers.”
Outside of the glaring typo referring to Winfield’s draft position, the analysis is pretty solid. He even graded higher than rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who had a helluva introduction to the NFL himself.
Winfield Jr. finished the game with six total tackles that included three solo tackles, the aforementioned pass deflection, and one quarterback hit.
His play didn’t just catch the eye of PFF, either. His teammates have noticed his play, as well.
“I’m really impressed with Antoine and his development,” corner Carlton Davis III told reporters on Tuesday via Zoom. “He fits right in with us, especially with us having a young [defensive back] group, but having a lot of experience. He’s a young DB, but from his background he has a lot of experience with the NFL. He showed it in practice and even on Sunday. I’m really pleased to have him back there with us and to have him continue to grow with us as a young DB core.”
Winfield Jr.’s development will be crucial to how the Bucs’ defense performs throughout the season. The Bucs have long searched for a playmaker to hold down the back end of the defense and it looks like they may have found one.