During the 2000s, only five NFL players recorded at least 600 solo tackles, defended 70 passes, nabbed 15 interceptions, and forced 10 fumbles. They are, as you’d expect with numbers like that, Hall of Fame-caliber talents — Ray Lewis, Brian Dawkins, Ronde Barber, Keith Bulluck, and Antoine Winfield Sr.
Winfield’s 14-year NFL career began as a first-round pick by the Buffalo Bills in 1999. The Jim Thorpe Award winner from the Ohio State Buckeyes terrorized Big Ten defenses and was a Consensus All-American his senior year before turning pro. Winfield eventually signed a free agent deal in 2004 with the Minnesota Vikings worth $34.8 million over six years and went on to make three-straight Pro Bowls from 2008-10 and was named All-Pro in 2008.
Antoine Winfield Sr. Highlights
No one wanted to throw at that Vikings’ secondary in the 2000s, especially with Winfield and Fred Smoot outside and Darren Sharper and Corey Chavous at the safety spots. Suffice to say that Winfield’s NFL career taught him everything you need to know about becoming a successful professional football player.
Minnesota Safety Antoine Winfield Jr.
I first noticed Winfield’s dominance when the fifth-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions visited Minneapolis to take on the 13th-ranked Golden Gophers. Both teams were 8-0 at the time, and Minnesota played lights out in front of a sellout crowd at TCF Bank Stadium. Golden Gophers QB Tanner Morgan was 18-of-20 for 339 yards and three touchdowns as Minnesota downed Penn State, 31-26 — It was the program’s first top-5 win in 20 years.
Winfield Jr.? He finished that game with 11 tackles and intercepted two passes, both of which came inside the 10-yard line and stalled key drives for Penn State. He tied Minnesota’s single-season record at seven interceptions that day and was named the National Defensive Player of the Week.
Minnesota finished last season 11-2 and defeated Auburn in the Outback Bowl. Winfield Jr. was a Unanimous All-American, All-Big Ten First Team selection, and was named Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year. He finished his career with 177 total tackles (126 solo), four sacks, nine interceptions, two forced fumbles, three recoveries, a blocked field goal, and three total touchdowns.
Not bad for a kid who missed almost the entire 2017 and 2018 seasons with injuries, huh?
The pride of Woodland Hills High School in The Woodlands, Texas was a three-star prospect who wasn’t considered a top-100 cornerback entering college, but found a home in Minnesota where his father rose to prominence. Winfield Jr. started nine games his true freshman season before injuries only allowed him to play in eight games over the next two years.
But his father’s influence and preparation from an early age helped Winfield Jr. during those tough stretches. He recalled watching game film with his dad as a kid, learning how to defend Pro Bowl wide receivers like the Lions’ Calvin Johnson and Packers’ Greg Jennings in the NFC North.
That knowledge from day one is what Winfield Jr. believes sets him apart.
Antoine Winfield Sr.’s Influence on His Son
“My dad had a lot of heart, and that’s kind of what I looked up to in him. Seeing him go out there against professionals and great guys that you see on TV all the time. That’s just something I kind of modify my game after. It’s not about how big you are, how tall you are — It’s about how much fight you have.”
— Antoine Winfield Jr. at the 2020 NFL CombineAdvertisement
When you see Winfield Jr. lace up his cleats and trot onto the field to start his NFL career, it’ll be like seeing a carbon copy of his dad.
Here are the father-son measurables for the Winfield boys:
Antoine Winfield Sr.
Weight: 200 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.41 seconds
Vertical jump: 37 inches
Broad jump: 10 feet, 2 inches
Antoine Winfield Jr.
Weight: 203 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.45 seconds
Vertical jump: 36 inches
Broad jump: 10 feet, 4 inches
Oh, and Austin Winfield will be redshirt freshman defensive back for head coach P.J. Fleck and the University of Minnesota in the 2020 college football season.
Must be something in the water at the Winfield house.