TAMPA — If there was one spot the Bucs were looking to upgrade on defense, it was at safety.
A draft focused on offense and building around Tom Brady took a turn to the other side of the ball in the second round as the Bucs surprisingly took Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield Jr. with the 45th overall pick.
The Bucs went with Winfield over running back options D.K. Dobbins of Ohio State and Cam Akers of Florida State.
Winfield, who makes up in speed and ball skills what he lacks in size, was an unanimous All-American selection. He is only 5 feet 9, but was still the Gophers’ top playmaker on defense, leading the team with seven interceptions and 88 tackles. He recorded a 4.45-second 40 time at the combine.
“He’s a lot in a little frame,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck, a former Bucs assistant, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about Winfield. “Everybody talks about his frame, but I think that’s what gives him an advantage. You’re getting a linebacker-type tackler, a corner coverage person, and then you’re getting a wide receiver with the catch radius and the catch ability.”
At the combine, Winfield compared his game to Texans safety Tyrann Matheiu, who played under Bucs coach Bruce Arians in Arizona.
“I think versatility is my best attribute,” Winfield said at the combine. “I can pretty much play anywhere. Also, create takeaways. That’s my goal, to create takeaways for my team and that gives us the best opportunity to win. I’m going to do everything in my power to do that.”
Getting a three-down back was seemingly an area of need, and Bucs general manager Jason Licht watched as Georgia’s D’Andre Swift went to the Lions at No. 35 overall, and saw the Colts trade up to No. 41 to select Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor before picking Winfield.
Winfield is the son of former NFL cornerback Antoine Winfield Sr., and said he learned the game from his dad early on.
“When I was younger, my dad would lay in his bed with his laptop,” he said. “I would be sitting right next to him watching film.
“We’re almost about the same in size. 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 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.”
Winfield’s father actually played against Brady in the AFC East playing for the Buffalo Bills, and intercepted the quarterback in a Nov. 11, 2001 game.
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“That’s crazy, but Tom Brady’s the GOAT," Winfield said Friday of his new 43-year-old teammate. “It’s going to be crazy when I see him in person. He’s one of my favorite players. It’s crazy that my dad played against him. That’s just wild for me to think about.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.