4 Dec 2020

Home of the NFL Offseason

Antoine Winfield Jr and the Case of the NFL’s Assessment of Safeties

John Vogel breaks down the prospectus of Antoine Winfield Jr, and why he could end up being drafted later than most people expect.

Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield Jr. is one of the most explosive prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft. Where can we expect him to be selected among this strange safety class?

Throughout the history of the NFL Draft, you can generally predict the way that the cards will fall by recent memory. Trends become set in the NFL that is deemed by recent success, seen by many of the teams as a formula that works and can be emulated.

Recent success found by other teams isn’t always the recipe for championships. We’ve seen several teams in recent memory try to replicate the Seattle Seahawks Legion Of Boom, a valuable, hard-hitting secondary that caused a ton of turnovers. Other teams have moved to build rotating defensive lines, a recipe that won the Philadelphia Eagles a Super Bowl in recent memory.

Because of these different ways that teams ultimately create X-factors and win championships, the NFL is a copycat league. In recent NFL Drafts, this has become more and more evident.

One of the positions that have fallen through the cracks throughout history is the safety position. It’s never been considered a priority position and top players entering the draft (generational talents even) have fallen through the draft because of the lack of value in the position.

Antoine Winfield Jr is one of the most electric, explosive playmakers entering the 2020 NFL Draft. His 2019 college season at Minnesota was truly one for the ages, a highlight season for NFL teams to marvel over. That being said there are things concerning outside of the 2019 tape that the NFL typically worries about. As a result, there are Draft Twitter people that love him, and then there are NFL insiders who don’t speak too highly of him.

What there is to like about Antoine Winfield Jr.

When you turn on a highlight reel, Winfield is mesmerizing. He is so athletic and savvy on the backend. He makes incredible reads on the football and his football intelligence is oftentimes surprising to quarterbacks. He reminds me of the NFL legend Ed Reed, and that sounds crazy to say out loud. Winfield’s ball skills and versatility are insanely similar and combined with his speed and athleticism he’s an absolute demon in the back end.

Winfield intercepted 7 passes in the 2019 season and finished his career with 9 over the course of his career. His ball skills are extremely natural and he is so good at what he does.

Winfield likes to tackle too, thank goodness. This is a very important aspect of his game to me. Safeties cannot be shy from contact and Winfield is definitely not. His tackling form could use some work as he relies a bit too much on his pure hit power, but Winfield has big-play potential on any given snap.

What will hold his Draft Stock back

With all of these uncertainties, why is there so much to question about Winfield’s game at the next level? Well, it’s not an easy answer, but it’s a necessary to discuss.

Winfield didn’t see the field very much over the course of his career, playing in 30 games over four seasons. Two seasons were cut short by injuries and earned him an additional year of eligibility due to the severity of an injury. He entered the NFL Draft with two years of collegiate eligibility remaining.

The injuries aren’t ones that can be readily ignored, either. In 2018, Winfield missed 9 games due to a foot injury. In 2017, he missed eight games as a result of a hamstring injury. These are common injuries that don’t normally take so long to heal, and they cost Winfield just about two full seasons. That’s concerning to NFL teams.

The other thing that will hurt his draft stock is his size. At 5’9″ and 203 pounds, Winfield is not the ideal size that NFL teams are looking to leave in their back end. There are a few exceptions to the rules, of course, like Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu who is about the same size. Mathieu mentioned Winfield on Twitter earlier this week while interacting with ESPN analyst Ryan Clark, saying “(Winfield) is smart… I hope we get him.”

While his athletic ability does make up form some of the size concerns, it’s still not a compelling argument to make against other safety prospects in this class, like LSU’s Grant Delpit, Alabama’s Xavier McKinney, Lenoir-Rhyne’s Kyle Dugger or Southern Illinois’ Jeremy Chinn. Dugger and Chinn both tested athletically better at the Combine than anyone expected them to.

Realistically, what can we expect to see?

Tyrann Mathieu is a perfect comparison to the Winfield because their size and skillsets are similar. Mathieu was an early third round selection in 2013, and he came with a boatload of off-the-field baggage. I think that the late-second round and early-third is a very reasonable place to see Winfield go.

Just because a safety is drafted before another one, it doesn’t mean that the first safety is going to have a more successful and fruitful career. Eric Berry was selected nine picks before Earl Thomas in 2010. Kenny Vaccaro, Matt Elam, Johnathan Cyprien, and Eric Reid were all selected before Tyrann Mathieu.

If Winfield stays healthy as a professional, he’s going to have a fantastic career. That I do not doubt at all. Don’t be surprised, though, when Winfield falls farther than anyone expected and the analysts are scrambling for an answer.

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