Antoine Winfield Jr.

Antoine Winfield Jr.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had one of the greatest drafts in NFL history in 1995, when they selected future Pro Football Hall of Famers Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks in the first round.

If the franchise were to ever repeat that incredible feat, it might be with a few members of its 2020 draft class — offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs and safety Antoine Winfield Jr., who CBS Sports NFL writer Jared Dublin put at the No. 1 spot in his NFL safety rankings ahead of the 2024 season.

“Winfield can do pretty much anything you want from a safety,” Dublin wrote. “Patrol the deep portion of the field? Check. Cover backs and tight ends? Check. Stop the run? Check. Blitz? Check. Anything and everything of which he is asked, at which he excels. He recently became the highest-paid defensive back in the league, and he deserved the payday.”

The Buccaneers signed Winfield Jr. to a 4-year, $84.1 million contract extension on May 13 — the first time a safety has been the league’s highest-paid defensive back.

Winfield Jr.’s $45 million in guaranteed money was also a record for NFL safeties.

What Makes Winfield Jr. So Special?

Checking at only 5-foot-9 and 203 pounds, Winfield Jr. was a second-round pick (No. 45 overall) out of Minnesota in 2020 — the Buccaneers’ second pick of the draft that year following Wirfs at No. 13 overall in the first round out of Iowa.

The pair of Big Ten stars both became plug-and-play starters for Tampa Bay as rookies and followed Tom Brady’s lead on the way to a Super Bowl win over the Kansas City Chiefs, with both making the PFWAA All-Rookie Team as well.

With the jury obviously still out on 2024 first-round pick Graham Barton, the 2020 draft represents sort of an anomaly for the Buccaneers in recent years — none of the early-round picks in the three subsequent drafts have turned into stars.

Winfield Jr. was a Pro Bowl selection in 2021 but missed four games each in 2021 and 2022 with injuries before putting together a season for the ages in 2023 as he helped lead Tampa Bay to its third consecutive NFC South Division title.

In 2023, Winfield Jr. was named an NFL All-Pro for the first time after starting all 17 games with career highs in tackles (122), sacks (6.0), pass deflections (12), interceptions (3), fumble recoveries (4) and an NFL-leading 6 forced fumbles.

Buccaneers Need Help at Edge Rusher, Cornerback

Winfield Jr.’s 6.0 sacks were second on the Buccaneers behind rookie outside linebacker YaYa Diaby — it almost goes without saying that it’s never good for a team’s defense when the safety is among the sack leaders.

The Buccaneers need the most help at edge rusher, where Diaby can’t be counted on to make a leap in 2024 and the franchise has already declined the fifth-year option on 2021 first-round pick and the outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. 

If Tampa Bay is likely to get more pressure on the quarterback, it might not come from the outside. Interior defensive linemen Vita Vea and 2023 first-round pick Calijah Kancey both could be dominant players. Vea was a Pro Bowl selection and signed a 4-year, $68 million extension with the Buccaneers in Jan. 2022.

Kancey missed 7 games with injury as a rookie in 2023 but finished with 4.0 sacks and 9.0 tackles for loss in 10 games.

Tony Adame covers the NFL for, with a focus on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Commanders and Denver Broncos. A veteran sports writer and editor since 2004, his work has been featured at Stadium Talk, Yardbarker, NW Florida Daily News and Pensacola News Journal. More about Tony Adame

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