The New York Giants have a number of needs on the defensive side of the ball, but one of the most enduring has been finding a long-term answer at the free safety position.
Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield doesn’t have ideal size and will enter the NFL as a 21-year old red-shirt sophomore. However, he was also one of the most impressive defensive backs in all of college football over the course of the 2019 season. He was all over the field for Minnesota, creating turnovers, stopping the run, and pressuring passers. But even more than his versatility, Winfield has the kind of attitude and competitive toughness that coaches will line up to work with.
Could he be the answer the Giants have been looking for?
Prospect: Antoine Winfield Jr. (S, Minnesota)
Games Watched: vs. Nebraska (2019), vs. Penn State (2019), vs. Iowa (2019)
Red Flags: Foot (2017), Hamstring (2018)
Games Played: 12
Tackles For a loss: 3.5
Forced Fumbles: 2
Best: Versatility, football IQ/instincts, ball skills, tackling
Worst: Size, range, health
Projection: A starting safety in a with scheme versatility.
Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield has good athleticism, very good instincts, football IQ, very good tackling, and good ball skills to go with the versatility to play a variety of roles in a modern NFL defense. Winfield lined up in a variety of alignments for the Minnesota defense, from on the line of scrimmage as a psuedo-linebacker to a true center-fielding free safety. He showed comfort everywhere he played, with a combination of athleticism and football IQ giving him very good play strength. Winfield Jr. frequently moved just before the snap, helping to disguise Minnesota’s coverages and blitz intentions. He reached depth quickly and efficiently when asked to cover a deep zone, such as in a Cover 2 or Cover 3 defense, while also keeping his eyes in the backfield to lead him to the football. Winfield also showed the quick feet and fluid hips needed to turn and run with receivers in man coverage.
Winfield is a dangerous run defender, quickly diagnosing and reacting to run plays. He consistently triggered downhill almost instantly, wasting no time or motion rallying in run support. Winfield shows very good timing to fill gaps and hit ball carriers, as well as a feel for navigating around the line of scrimmage. Those traits also show up as a blitzer, as Winfield shows the ability to effectively pressure the passer from the first, second, or third level and use his timing to throw off blockers and create free runs at the quarterback.
Winfield Jr. is occasionally over-aggressive, particularly in the angles he takes in run support. That is primarily an issue when the runner beats the initial defenders, forcing Winfield to adjust from helping to becoming the last line of defense. Winfield’s lack of length — measuring 5-foot-9 and with 30-inch arms — could be an issue for teams with strict lower thresholds in those areas. He also lacks truly elite range and might not be suited to playing as a full-time centerfielding safety.
Overall Grade: 6.6 - Has the traits to start early in his career, if not immediately. Should be a good starter by his second year. [Grading Scale]
Antoine Winfield Jr. projects as a starting safety in the NFL and would be best in a defense which allows him to create and exploit match-ups all around the field.
Winfield has impressive versatility to play both the free and box safety roles, playing coverage and run defense in both areas. Winfield adjusts well to the ball and despite his lack of length has enough of a catch-denial radius to high-point and intercept passes. He is a very good run defender, diagnosing, reacting to, and firing downhill on run plays quickly, and arriving with bad intentions. Winfield is a violent tackler who consistently targets the ball carrier’s hips, driving through them and wrapping up to finish the play with the opposing player on the ground. He shows a similar aggressiveness as a blitzer, but with a subtle use of timing and rhythm to throw off blockers’ timing and create free runs for himself.
Winfield is suited to play in almost any coverage scheme, and would be well served to be drafted into a defense which calls a variety of coverage shells to take advantage of his versatility. He might not have the raw range to frequently play in a Cover 1 shell against NFL receivers, but he can do enough to disguise coverages in the pre-snap phase and be an impact starter.
Winfield Jr. does have a significant injury history after losing both his 2017 and 2018 seasons to injury (hamstring and foot, respectively). Teams will want to be thorough in their medical evaluations of him.