TAMPA — Rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. is playing well beyond his years and Lavonte David shows no signs of slowing down as one of the league’s top linebackers.
On Thursday, they garnered two of the top awards in the NFL for September.
Winfield Jr., 22, was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Month and David, 30, took NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for their performance during the Bucs' 2-1 start in September.
The son of a 14-year veteran defensive back whom he is named after, Winfield Jr. has been one of the Bucs' biggest impact players since joining the team as a second-round pick from Minnesota.
Winfield Jr. has produced 23 tackles, two sacks, three quarterback hits, one tackle for loss, two passes defensed and a forced fumble.
Bucs coach Bruce Arians says Winfield Jr. reminds him a lot of two Pro Bowl safeties he drafted while with the Cardinals ― Tyrann Mathieu and Budda Baker.
“They both played the same position. They both were very, very mature, heady football players,'' Arians said. "They came in and you couldn’t overload them. They studied and were overly prepared. [It’s] the same thing with Antoine – you see the same type of player, the same type of makeup, the same preparation that he puts in. I think that’s a very easy comparison for us having drafted those guys and drafting him.”
Winfield Jr. showed his versatility in Sunday’s win over Denver when he moved from safety to slot corner after an injury to defensive back Sean Murphy-Bunting. Always around the football, he says those skills were honed at an early age.
“I would say it’s natural, but it also comes with a lot of hard work,'' Winfield Jr. said. "If you do it in practice, you’ll do it in the game, so my goal is always to stay around the ball in practice. Then, it shows up during game time. You have to practice it all the time for it to actually happen.”
Winfield is the Bucs first defensive back to win the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Month award.
David, 30, has been among the league’s top linebackers for most of his career but lacked notoriety because of the Bucs' lack of success on the field. He had 24 tackles, two tackles for loss, on fumble recovery and one interception in September for the Bucs.