• Connor Smith

The Sleeper Of The 2020 NFL Draft: Antoine Winfield Jr.

Connor Smith

Antoine Winfield is a name many of you have probably heard before. Whether it was Senior’s 14 year, 3 All-Pro NFL career or Junior’s fantastic college career. This family was made to play football and Antione Winfield Jr. does it with the best of ‘em. Winfield Jr. is a 5’9” 203 pound safety who played his college ball at the University of Minnesota. Antoine spent 4 years at the northernmost U and impressed, when on the field. He played a great true freshman season. In 9 games he had 52 total tackles, 37 solo, and 1 pick which he returned for a touchdown. His Sophomore and Junior campaigns ended in similar fashion. After playing just 4 games he went down with injury. Over the combined 8 games he had 27 solo tackles and 37 in total with 1 interception, a double overtime game winner against Fresno State, in which he showed amazing instincts and cut off a would be game extending touchdown. His senior year was something to behold. He finished the season with 58 solo tackles and 83 total tackles. He forced 2 fumbles. He also had a mind boggling 7 interceptions.

Yes, 4 of those 7 interceptions were tips but how can you mark a guy down for being in the right place. It made me think of Dennis Rodman, arguably the best rebounder in NBA history even at a shorter stature. He and Winfield find a way to be in the right place at the right time. It isn’t luck, it’s IQ. When watching Winfield’s tape it’s obvious that he knows football. I watched him play against Nebraska and Penn State with Noah Vedral and Sean Clifford at QB meaning an RPO/QB run scheme was used heavily. I watched him play, Wisconsin running a more pro style offense and nothing changes. He still recognizes plays and gets to his spot quicker than the offense does. He lays the wood on ball carriers and receivers and he can track a ball with the skills that top jump ball receivers possess. He may be shorter in stature but that did not hurt his father and it certainly has not hurt him.

The things that teams are citing as scaring them from Winfield are appalling to me. Teams cite his height as a problem for jump balls downfield. The idea that Winfield doesn’t win jump balls amazes me. He did time and time again on tape, either knocking the ball away or flat out taking it from the bigger, taller receiver. Before the combine, teams thought that Winfield lacked speed and burst. He put these fears to bed with a 4.45 40 time. Faster than many RBs and WRs. The main flaw he has that actually scares me is his durability. I mentioned his two missed seasons and those are scary. With teams dropping Tua off their entire draft boards when he easily has the 2nd best arm talent of the QB’s in the draft I can understand why teams would be afraid to take Antoine in the first 3 rounds. The injuries are still something that would not keep me from taking Winfield if I were in need of a safety who will lay the wood on players and has rare ball-hawking skills.

My NFL comparison is to another hard hitting, smaller safety who has carved out an extremely productive NFL career. At 5’10” T.J. Ward was always looked at as too small to contribute in the NFL. That changed in his rookie year with the Cleveland Browns, when he had 123 total tackles with 95 solo tackles. Ward hit hard when he needed to and wrapped up when he needed to. He may not have been blessed by height or size but Ward made up for this in how he recognized plays and deterred players from even bringing the ball near him. The one difference between these two players is the fact that Winfield has more ball hawk ability and will intercept more passes in the league.

Antoine Winfield Jr. is a bone rattling safety who has rare ball hawk skills and the football IQ of a star player. His father instilled a tough, hard-working attitude in him from the moment he was born and he knows what it takes to have a long, productive NFL career. I cannot wait until we are asking why Winfield being short meant that he fell outside of the first round where he should be taken.