The Bucs struck it rich in the second-round of the 2020 draft when they selected Antoine Winfield, Jr. The former Minnesota Gopher was a starter from day one. He played an instrumental role in helping Tampa Bay win Super Bowl LV.
In his rookie season, he started all 16 games, racking up 94 tackles, three sacks, six passes defended, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception. He followed it up with a Pro Bowl season last year that included 88 tackles, two sacks, six passes defended, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries – all while missing three games.
Yet Bucs safeties coach Nick Rapone said Tuesday that he thinks Winfield is capable of much more, and challenged the third-year pro to intercept more passes this season.
Bucs FS Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill – Photo by: USA Today
“I think Antoine just gets better and better. That’s the type of kid he is because of his father and his background. He’s just a blue-collar guy,” Rapone said. “The one thing with Winfield where I challenged him this year is – run-support wise, you’re beautiful – and you’re beautiful in a lot of areas.
“Let’s start getting six and seven interceptions a year. Let’s make that the next step where you’re going to get six or seven interceptions. The real good players and the best players love to get challenged. So, that’s the challenge this year – let’s get six and seven interceptions. We know you can blitz, we know you can tackle. We know you can pass defend – let’s get the football a little more.”
An Ascending Talent
Winfield made the Pro Bowl last season and the arrow is only pointing up for him. It shouldn’t be long until he is regarded as one of the best free safeties in the league if he isn’t already. He’s not only performed well in the regular season, but has shown up when it counts in the playoffs as well. In five postseason games, he’s totaled 32 tackles, three tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and two passes defended. He’s added a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery as well.
If Winfield can answer Rapone’s challenge, he will take his game to another level.