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Colts Prospect Interviews: Antoine Winfield Jr., safety, Minnesota

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NCAA Football: Penn State at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

A popular series from last draft cycle is returning yet again at Stampede Blue. Last offseason, I interviewed over 40 prospects that could eventually be fits for the Indianapolis Colts in the 2019 NFL Draft. As a result, we were able to find out a lot about two Colts who went on to eventually be drafted by the team in Marvell Tell III and Khari Willis. This year I hope to interview even more prospects so you all can get an inside look at these player’s accomplishments and mindsets going into this next draft.

Our next prospect is safety Antoine Winfield Jr out of Minnesota. Winfield Jr. is a top prospect in this draft class and may even go round one come draft day. We had a great conversation about his relationship with his father (Antoine Winfield), his road back from injuries in his career, and how to be a play maker on the back end.


Size:

5’9” 203 pounds

Combine Numbers:

40 Time: 4.45 sec / Vertical Jump: 36 inch / Broad Jump: 124 inch

Senior Stats:

83 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, 1 pass deflections, 7 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles.

Fit with the Colts:

The Colts appear to be set at safety with both Malik Hooker and Khari Willis returning in 2020. However, if Winfield Jr is there at 34 and Chris Ballard thinks the talent is too good to pass up, then I could see him being the pick. Winfield Jr is a very talented player who is versatile enough to have an impact all over the defense. The Colts could have the best of both Willis and Hooker by adding Winfield Jr as he is a ballhawk but also physical and a very capable run defender. While I wouldn’t take a safety at 34, the talent may be too good to pass up if he is there.

Round Projection:

Late Round One/Early Round 2


Highlights:


Interview:

ZH: You are the son of a real good NFL player in Antoine Winfield. I wanted to ask you what was the biggest thing he taught you over the years?

AW: The biggest thing I would say is being my own individual. He would always say that we have the same name but I’m Junior. He basically just told me to be my own man and don’t try to be somebody else and try to go out on the field and be the best player that I can be.


ZH: Was there ever pressure from him or anyone else to pursue football as a kid because your father was so successful in it?

AW: Oh yeah there was no pressure at all. He told me at a young age that if I didn’t want to play football, then I didn’t have to. It was just something that I loved and I wanted to play so yeah there was no real pressure from him or anybody else for me to play football.


ZH: Last question about you and your father I promise. I’m sure you have watched a lot of his film over the years. What has been your takeaways from watching his film?

AW: Just the things that he was able to do for 14 years playing cornerback at his size and stature was just amazing. We are built similar so just seeing him go through it gives me hope when transitioning to play at the next level. Just seeing the way he played though. The way he was tackling, the way he was covering and just everything. The total aspect of his entire game really amazed me.


ZH: You struggled with injuries the past two seasons before finally being able to stay healthy last year. When you were healthy, you were arguably the best safety in college football. What did it mean to you to finally stay healthy and also have the season you did last year?

AW: It felt amazing just to be able to play the game. It sucks when you go out two seasons back to back with injuries. I never really looked at it as a negative though. I looked at it as a positive and I was going to come back bigger, faster, and stronger than before. So I think those injuries helped me come back and have such a great season this last year. I feel like those injuries helped me prepare and learn and create success for my future this last season.


ZH: On film, you play at 100 miles per hour on every play. That shocked me personally considering that you just came off two major injuries. What was the mindset for you to still play that aggressive play style after those injuries?

AW: Yeah I mean every time I’m on the field, I’m going 1,000 miles per hour. I play at my best and fastest play speed and I’m always trying to make a play. It’s football though, it’s 100% an injury risk sport. You are gonna get hurt. It just wasn’t ever in the back of mind you know. If it was meant to be then it was meant to be so I always wanted to go out there and give it 100% and you never know when it is your last play so you just wanna give it your all every time out.


ZH: You were outstanding last season and had many remarkable highlight plays as a play maker on the back end. What really went into this great season for you and being that ball hawk safety in the secondary?

AW: I would really say it is two things; film study and practice. As far as film study, you gotta know who you are going up against as far as what the other team’s tendencies are, who they target in what situations and such so you can put yourself in better situations to make those plays on the ball. With practice, I would go out every day after practice and catch 25 balls to make sure my hands were ready for those few chances I got a game. I also tried to create one takeaway a day at practice because I thought that would really help me get some come game day.


ZH: Were you able to create that turnover in practice more often than not?

AW: Oh yeah for sure.


ZH: The NFL nowadays loves that single high, rangy safety who can read the entire field and make plays. Do you think that’s a role that fits you in the NFL?

AW: I feel very comfortable in that role. I love playing in the post. Sitting back there and being able to break on the quarterback’s throws is something I’m very good at. I’m very comfortable back there and would love to be that guy for an NFL team.


ZH: The NFL is also really looking for safeties who can be interchangeable and play both over the top and down in the box so they can disguise their coverage. How comfortable do you feel in the box and in man as opposed to being the deep safety?

AW: I feel like versatility is what I bring to a team. I can play the post, I can play down in the box, I can cover slots, I can cover tight ends... I can pretty much do anything on the back end of the field and that is something I’ve really worked on because I feel like you can use me anywhere on the field.


ZH: What would you say was the biggest thing you learned or improved upon in your game in your years at Minnesota?

AW: I would just say my overall knowledge of the game. Being able to not only learn what my position was, because that was something I worked on my freshman year, but being able to learn what everybody was supposed to be doing. I feel like going through those injuries I was basically like a coach just coaching the other DB’s and that was where I had the chance to learn what our defensive concepts were and what everybody around me and their jobs were. Just learning the game of football itself is something I acquired in my time in Minnesota.


ZH: Why is it important in your opinion to know what the other defenders are doing beside you on the field?

AW: It allows you to play faster and play to your strengths. If I am in single high coverage and I know I have a post safety and I’m covering a number two receiver, then I know I have outside leverage to funnel him in to my safety and low hole player. The overall concept of knowing where everyone is just allows you to play better. As a safety, you are the quarterback of a defense so you have to know what everyone else is doing to ensure the play is successful for your team.


ZH: When you think back on this great season you had and on all the great plays you made, what play was the most memorable to you?

AW: I would say the pick against Penn State on the opening drive. There was so much hype around that game, we were both 8-0 at that time, and we were at home so getting that interception on the first drive was huge. We went on to win that game and the stadium was packed and that was just a crazy moment to do that in a big game.


ZH: What is my team getting if they spend a draft pick on you in this draft class?

AW: You are getting a guy who works hard and is going to work his way up to being that starting safety. A guy who is just going to bring passion. I’ve always wanted to play in this league since I was a young kid so you’ll just be getting a passionate hard worker who brings a lot of energy every day.