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Antoine Winfield Jr. named starter at safety for Buccaneers

Rookie safety will get his shot early to prove he belongs in the NFL

NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Just about everyone expected running back to be the targeted position group for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second-round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Instead, they went safety, and selected the first of what would become two Minnesota Golden Gophers selected in Antoine Winfield Jr.

Immediately, NFL pedigree, Power-5 Conference experience, and versatility all helped catipult Winfield’s fan-stock through the roof. Before he ever strapped on pads for the Bucs, there were projections he’d be a starter on one of the fastest rising defenses in the league.

No pre-season games figured to hamper his chances though. Unlike first-round pick Tristan Wirfs, Winfield had real competition. Andrew Adams got the most snaps opposite of Jordan Whitehead in the defensive backfield in 2019 and is back with the team in 2020. Mike Edwards was selected in large part due to the leadership potential and expected to make a strong push in year two. With no chances to prove himself against fully live competition, the rookie was going to have to show-up and show-out early and often in camp to nab the coveted starting job.

Turns out, he did just that, and has secured the opening week starting safety position playing next to Jordan Whitehead to cap off the Buccaneers’ defense.

It’s a big role, but one he is surely excited about filling. In fact, in June, Winfield appeared on a “Meet the Rookie” segment on Buccaneers.com and set a pretty high target for his first-year as a professional football player.

“Biggest goal this year is to be the Defensive Rookie of the Year,” Winfield said. “That’s my goal. Getting there, learning all my plays, and eventually earning a starting role. So you know, it’s little steps along the way, but long-term goal I want to be Defensive Rookie of the Year - and a Super Bowl Champion.”

‘Eventually’ earning a starting role. Eventually is now, and as much as he focused on the little steps, he’s about to take a giant dive into his NFL career as he now prepares to help Todd Bowles’ defense stifle the Drew Brees led New Orleans Saints in Week 1 of the 2020 NFL Season.