Despite being snubbed, Antoine Winfield Jr. played well enough last season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to earn the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. The young stud safety for the Buccaneers needs to be named to the Pro Bowl to make up for such a serious error in judgment.
Most Bucs fans would probably agree with Head Coach Bruce Arians, who commented to Pro Football Focus last year, that he felt Winfield should have been named the Defensive Rookie of the Year, and not Washington’s Chase Young. Young, because of his size, his position, and to some degree his mouth, was on the lips of most of the people covering the NFL.
That’s not to say Young is not a good player, but an edge rusher is expected to get sacks, and he recorded 7.5. This isn’t as much the case for a safety, but for what it’s worth in his first year Winfield managed to corral three. It’s his 64 unassisted tackles that merit recognition though. It’s how he solidified a suspect secondary at Tampa, that needs to be looked at.
Tampa selected Winfield in the second round of the 2020 Draft. Given the coaching crew’s ability to spot premier talent in the draft, it wasn’t surprising, to well, pretty much everyone watching the Bucs, when he ended up earning first-team status within weeks of making the team. He was everywhere.
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He came to the Bucs from the University of Minnesota, but it may be the influence of his father, Antoine Winfield Sr., a former safety with the Minnesota Vikings, that gave him the advantage he displayed in those early days and weeks. To call him a student of the game would be fine if he was learning on his own. However, through his dad, he was learning nuances of the position, how to read the offense, what keys to read to know where the ball was going. You can bet there was a ton of football diagnostics going on in the weeks between his college games.
Who knows? Maybe Winfield comes out and is a staggering flop in year two. Perhaps he doesn’t live up to our expectations, but most Bucs fans aren’t going to buy that. We know what we saw last year. We saw hustle, we saw key play after key play, like the ball he knocked down on a two-point conversion attempt in the game against the New York Giants. No, it wasn’t a penalty.
Some players have an uncanny way of knowing where to be on the field, the court, the rink, the pitch. Call it what you will. The Great Gretzky earned his name for scoring and when asked, he told people “I don’t go where the puck is, I go where I think it’s going to be.” The same can be said of Winfield Jr’s. approach. He always seems to know where the ball is going to be, and often enough he puts himself in a position to make the play. Of course then, who can forget his non-verbal comment to Tyreek Hill in SuperBowl LV when he returned the treat that Hill presented him during the regular season.