Key member of Gophers’ secondary to enter NFL draft

Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. surprised no one on Wednesday when he annouced via Instagram that he will not return to the Gophers and is going to enter the NFL draft.

Winfield, whose father was a standout cornerback for the Vikings, played a key role in the Gophers’ success this season as a redshirt sophomore. Minnesota went 11-2 and upset Auburn on New Year’s Day in the Outback Bowl.

Winfield played in a combined eight games in 2017 and 2018 because of season-ending injuries. He started all 13 games for the Gophers this season and led the team  with 88 tackles and 62 solo tackles. Winfield was named Big Ten defensive back of the year and All-Big Ten first team. He was one of five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski award, which is presented annually to the best defensive player in the nation.

Winfield had three sacks and made 3.5 tackles for loss to go along with seven interceptions and two forced fumbles. The seven interceptions tied a school single-season record. 

Winfield is listed at 5-foot-10, 205 pounds, but has outstanding football instincts. His father, Antoine Winfield Sr., was listed at only 5-9, 180 pounds, but played 14 seasons in the NFL with Buffalo (1999 to 2003) and Minnesota (2004 to 2012).

He spent his final nine seasons with the Vikings and eventually made the transition from outside cornerback to lining up inside in the nickel. Winfield Sr. also had great football instincts and, despite his lack of size, had the ability to cover wide receivers and hit like a linebacker.