If you’re a Bucs fan, the possibility of having the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year come from your team has probably crossed your mind. That’s how good OT Tristan Wirfs and S Antoine Winfield Jr. have been through the first nine weeks of the 2020 season.
Unfortunately for Wirfs, everyone knows he could have the best season for an offensive tackle in NFL history and not be considered for Offensive Rookie of the Year. For my money, Wirfs is extremely deserving of the award, but with quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert playing at such a high level, there is no chance for anyone else to garner attention for it.
On the defensive side of the ball, things are vastly different. The odds would seem to be stacked against Winfield, as no safety has won Defensive Rookie of the Year since 1990. But if there was ever a season for the 30-year streak to be broken, it might be this one, as very few defensive rookies have really stood out so far.
Just four defensive rookies in the entire league have overall grades above 60.8 for Pro Football Focus, and Winfield is one of them. Washington Football Team defensive end Chase Young leads the way in PFF’s rookie grading, but he has played just 321 snaps and recorded only 3.5 sacks. Regardless of how good many believe Young is (and he is good), this is largely a statistically based award, and the pass rusher’s numbers aren’t dominant enough to close out his challengers just yet.
Fascinatingly enough, one of Winfield’s top challengers for the award is another safety, the Colts’ Julian Blackmon. Blackmon didn’t start at the beginning of the year for Indy, but has burst onto the scene since Week 4, when he broke up three passes and intercepted one in a win over Chicago. On the season, Blackmon has 21 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, zero sacks, two interceptions and six pass breakups for the Colts.
Winfield has played over 100 more snaps than Blackmon, but his numbers aren’t quite as strong. He’s broken up four passes and intercepted one, while picking up one tackle-for-loss and two sacks this season. Winfield is asked to do a lot more than Blackmon in the Bucs secondary and has played all over the defense, but these awards usually come down to numbers over the intricacies of film study. However, Fox Sports asked fans to vote for their choice for Midseason Defensive Rookie of the Year, and Winfield Jr. was the selection.
A few other statistical/draft pedigree challengers for the award, Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn (67 tackles, one INT, five pass breakups, average PFF grades) and Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen (52 tackles, two sacks, one defensive touchdown, horrendous PFF grades) should be considered in the minds of most fans, but their snap-to-snap play hasn’t been on the level of Young, Winfield and Blackmon this season.
Because no defensive rookie has emerged as a clear frontrunner for the award, a winner by late season surge is still very possible. If a cornerback like A.J. Terrell or Jaylon Johnson goes off for a few interceptions late in the season, or Queen piles up a few more sacks and gets a turnover or two, that might be enough to sway voters in a year without a clear standout.
But if Winfield is to win the award, which he is fully capable of doing, he’ll need to put together some impressive stats over the second half of his debut season. The upcoming slate of quarterbacks isn’t an easy one, but there will be interceptions to be had, and Winfield can’t let them slip through his grasp like he did against Green Bay. If defensive coordinator Todd Bowles gets back to blitzing Winfield more, which he should, a few more sacks and perhaps a forced fumble or two could boost his resume once again.
Even after nine games, Defensive Rookie of the Year is right there for the taking for the 2020 class. Winfield Jr. might be in the driver’s seat, but he’ll need more impressive numbers from Weeks 10-17 to secure the trophy.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft