NFL Draft: Could Bears Snag Ballhawk Safety to Compliment Eddie Jackson?

The Chicago Bears have met with safety Antoine Winfield Jr.

Getty Safety Antoine Winfield Jr.

Based on what they’ve done this offseason, the Chicago Bears are likely planning on having Deon Bush start at strong safety opposite All-Pro Eddie Jackson, who should slide back over to free safety. The team needs to add depth behind them, however. Kentrell Brice and Jordan Lucas are listed as the No. 2 safeties following Bush and Jackson on the Bears’ depth chart, and neither would be a reliable fill-in should Bush or Jackson fall to injury. Enter the 2020 NFL Draft and Antoine Winfield Jr.

The son of a former Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings All-Pro, Winfield was one of the best safeties in the nation last season. He managed to stand out on a Minnesota Golden Gophers team that went 11-2 and far surpassed all expectations. Winfield is a projected Day 2 draft pick, and one team he recently met via FaceTime, the Bears, has two picks in the second round (43rd and 50th overall).

Clearly, the Bears are interested in Winfield, and he should definitely still be available when they’re on the clock in the second round, but would he be a good fit on this defense?

Antoine Winfield Jr. Stats: Solid Instincts With Room to Grow

Winfield’s stat line was very impressive last year. He had 85 tackles, and he was a playmaker at nearly every turn. He had seven interceptions, three sacks, two fumble recoveries and a defensive score his final season with the Gophers, and he would be a great fit in the Bears’ current defensive scheme. Bringing him in to compete with Bush or to back up Jackson would be a strong move by the Bears, adding depth to a position of need while also adding youth and potential.

Minnesota defensive coordinator Joe Rossi said this about Winfield: “He’s one of the guys that is always around the football. So is that a knack? Is it instincts? Whatever term you want to use, he’s always around the football, and the ball seems to find him.” On a Bears defense with pass rushers including Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn and Akiem Hicks, Winfield’s already strong run-stopping abilities could make this defense even stronger. He does have a huge red flag, however.

Antoine Winfield Jr. Injury History: Sophomore & Junior Seasons Both Cut Short

Winfield saw both his sophomore and junior seasons end in injury. He had a hamstring injury in 2017 and went down with a left foot injury one year later. He played just four games in each of those two seasons, but he started 10 games as a freshman and 12 games in his standout senior season.

Should his injury history scare the Bears off? Not necessarily. Look at the case of Eddie Jackson. Many in the 2017 NFL Draft had cooled on Jackson due to the injuries he sustained at Alabama (he broke his leg and tore an ACL) — but he ultimately turned into an All-Pro. Winfield may not be an All-Pro, but his potential to be a solid contributor to defenses early is there.

Here’s a snippet of what The Draft Network had to say about him: “He’s a fairly sure tackler who is confident locking horns with bigger dudes and runs the feet through contact for confident finishes. His run fills from the second level are quite nice and he’s eager to stick his face into the fire and challenge the ball carrier … He’s a hunter … Frequently takes the ambitious angle to make a play on the ball — it’s yielded great results for him thus far. Innate sense of turnover opportunities and cashes in on the regular. Dude is a firecracker.”

Having a safety who has an eye for big-plays while also being a solid tackler and run-stopper would boost any defense — especially one with an All-Pro like Jackson on the other side.

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