Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. is proving to be one of the best rookies on the defensive side of the ball this season. After winning Defensive Rookie of the Month honors in September, Winfield has continued to be one of the strongest contributors on the Buccaneers defense, playing all but 11 snaps this season in his first 12 career games.
The son of three-time Pro Bowl Vikings cornerback Antonie Winfield Sr., Winfield has deep roots in Minnesota, beating Vikings players in Madden as a teenager and later becoming one of college football’s best safety at the University of Minnesota.
“I was talking to my dad last night. We were watching film together, and I’m like, ‘Isn’t it crazy that I’m playing against the Vikings?’ ” the 22-year-old rookie said Wednesday, The Athletic’s Greg Auman reported. “We laughed about it. I grew up a Vikings fan, watching my dad play up there. I’ve always loved the Vikings, watched pretty much all their games when I was growing up. It’s going to be a cool experience, to play against one of my favorite teams.”
Fans were slightly surprised the Vikings passed on Winfield, instead opting to draft TCU cornerback Jeff Gladney at No. 31 overall.
However, it wasn’t that shocking for Winfield.
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Winfield: ‘I Wasn’t Surprised That the Vikings Didn’t Take Me’
Boasting the league’s top safety tandem in Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith, the Vikings weren’t looking for safety depth in the early rounds of the draft.
“I wasn’t surprised that the Vikings didn’t take me when they had a chance. It didn’t seem like they had much interest,” said Winfield, who only visited with defensive backs coach Daronte Jones during the pre-draft process.
The greater focus was on replenishing a depleted cornerbacks group that saw its three starters released in Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackenzie Alexander. For a defense that anticipated to have to start several rookies this season, Adding another on the back end was not in the Vikings’ plans.
Winfield, who was picked in the second round at No. 45 overall by the Buccaneers, has 69 combined tackles, a pair of sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception this season as a dark horse candidate for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Harris’ franchise tender expires this coming offseason and is suspect of not being re-signed as the Vikings expect to be one of the most cap-strapped teams in the league next season, begging the question if drafting Winfield would have been more beneficial long term.
Winfield Jr. Set for Reunion with Harrison Smith
Winfield mentioned Smith as one of the players who would come over to his house on Monday night’s back in 2012.
“I was down there playing video games with them, beating everybody at Madden and everything,” Winfield said. “It was cool to be able to hang around all those guys when I was younger.”
Smith back Winfield’s account: “He was definitely better than the rest of us at Madden,” Smith laughed. “There was a little basketball game in the basement, too. All the Winfield boys were always competing at something. Always wanted to beat us at everything. I think that’s just innate in the whole family.”
Now, Winfield will share the field with Smith after watching the Vikings’ All-Pro safety growing up and studying his play in college.
“Harrison is a stud,” Winfield said. “I remember watching him when I was in college at Minnesota. We went to a few Vikings games as a team, and I remember watching him. I’m like, ‘This guy’s crazy.’ I’m watching how he disguises. He’s showing down, he’s playing deep middle third. He’s a great player.”
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Trevor Squire is a Heavy contributor covering the Minnesota Vikings and journalism graduate from the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities. Connect with him on Twitter @trevordsquire and join our Vikings community at Heavy on Vikings on Facebook.