BY IRA KAUFMAN
Like father, like son. Only better.
Selected in the first round of the 1999 draft, Antoine Winfield was a strong NFL cornerback for 14 seasons, earning three Pro Bowl berths. At the tender age of 24, Antoine Winfield Jr. has already established himself as one of the best goaltenders in the league.
And it’s only just begun.
Jason Licht has made many savvy decisions as the Bucs’ general manager – Winfield’s 2020 selection ranks near the top. Nine corners or safeties had already been picked when Winfield came off the No. 45 pick board.
Two years later, Winfield ranks as the only Pro Bowler among those 10 defensive backs. His peers have just elected him the 75th player in a league with more than 1,500 participants.
“He’s just a good guy who does everything right,” said teammate Carlton Davis.
Winfield opened the 2022 season by recording Tampa Bay’s only takeaway against Dallas as Dak Prescott threw a pass under pressure.
During his short tenure with the Bucs, Winfield became an intoxicating defensive leader.
Former safety guard Todd Bowles loves chess pieces in his high school and he moves Winfield all over the field to capitalize on his versatility. He never took a break Sunday night, playing all 69 snaps against the Cowboys.
“He’s a football player,” says Bowles, “just like his dad.”
Winfield now has the opportunity to shine from the slot machine, where Ronde Barber thrived as a point guard. The night Winfield became a Buccaneer, ESPN analyst Louis Riddick raved about the wide range of Winfield’s skills.
Turns out Riddick was right.
Winfield is considered one of the best tacklers in the Tampa Bay defense, a necessary trait for any nickel back. He was challenged by Bowles and safety coach Nick Rapone to post more picks this fall.
“He has to get the football,” Rapone says. “Big safeties get the football. The Ed Reeds, the Rod Woodsons, they have football and that’s what we’re looking for. That’s what will make it great. »
So far it’s damn good.
Returning to the Superdome on Sunday should bring back special memories for Winfield. As a rookie against the Saints, he played one of the biggest games in franchise history.
With New Orleans already leading 20-13 late in the third quarter of a Divisional Round playoff game, tight end Jared Cook caught an 8-yard tilt from Drew Brees on third-and-second, crossing the midfield.
It appeared that New Orleans was close to extending its lead to at least 10 points.
But that never happened. Beaten on the play, Winfield continued to hustle. He knocked the ball off Cook’s arms and Devin White recovered the critical fumble. After the change in momentum, Tampa Bay scored the game’s final 17 points en route to a championship run.
Without these takeaways, Buc’s 2020 season was very much in jeopardy.
Tampa Bay coaches have come to rely on Winfield to do the right readings. He’s always been in football and if Game 1 is any example, Winfield is heading for another Pro Bowl designation.
Next: James Winston.
“He did a great job for us,” co-defensive coordinator Larry Foote said of Winfield’s Game 1 effort. “We weren’t surprised by the way he played.”
Watch Sunday’s Bucs-Saints game with Ira at the Big Storm Brewery in Clearwater!
All ages are welcome!!
Ira arrives around 12:15 p.m. Approximately 75 covered outdoor seating, or sit inside in the beautiful dining room. Florida’s best craft beer meets a special menu. BigStormBrewery.com.