Mel Kiper projecting Gopher Antoine Winfield in the 1st round
All-America redshirt sophomore defensive backAntoine Winfield Jr.made it official last month, announcing that he will forgo his final two years of college eligibility and enter the 2020 NFL draft. Winfield becomes the first Gophers player to enter the draft early since tight endMaxx Williams left following the 2014 college football season, going on to be drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the second round.
While Winfield is leaving school with an official designation of being a redshirt sophomore, this season actually marked his fourth year playing for the maroon and gold. He debuted in 2016, playing in 12 games and starting 9. However, Winfield's following two seasons were marred by season-ending injuries ultimately leading to the NCAA granting him an injury waiver to receive an extra season of eligibility.
That extra eligibility ultimately wasn't necessary. This season, Winfield started all 13 games at safety and notched 85 total tackles. In addition, his 7 interceptions were tops in the Big Ten and the fourth best tally across all of college football, also bringing him into a tie with Jeff Wright (1970) for Minnesota's all-time single season interception record.
The season-long stellar play earned Winfield a slew of end-of-year awards, being named the Big Ten's Defensive Back of the Year and one of five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski award for college football's best defensive player. The defensive back also became the seventh Golden Gopher in history to be named a unanimous All-American, and, alongsideGreg Eslingerin 2005, became only the second Minnesota player to earn such honors since 1962.
Winfield well outpaced his recruiting evaluation, where he was tabbed as a consensus low three star prospect who received an 82 grade from 247Sports, with offers from Missouri, Northwestern, Purdue, and others besides his Minnesota offer.
Winfield chose to make a return to state of Minnesota and play for the Gophers after beginning his high school career at Eden Prairie High School before moving south with his family and graduating from The Woodlands (TX) high school as a three star prospect, receiving an 82 grade from 247Sports.
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With the NFL Draft Combine coming up this week, many NFL Draft Experts are releasing mock drafts, including the godfather himself in ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. To say they've been favorable of Winfield would be accurate.
- Kiper has Winfield going into the first round to Minnesota Vikings. Makes sense with Anthony Harris hitting free agency, and Winfield would get to stay in the state where he grew up and with the team that his father was so successful with.
- CBSSports' latest mock draft has Winfield going in the second round to the Chicago Bears.
"The Ha Ha Clinton-Dix experiment didn't work out for the Bears, but Winfield is a smart player with a great pedigree who can handle the strong safety role and let Eddie Jackson do what he does best."
Worth noting that in that mock draft Tyler Johnson is an early third round pick with the Minnesota Vikings.
- USAToday's latest mock draft released yesterday has Winfield going in the first round to the New England Patriots.
"Another safety not named Grant Delpit? Don't be surprised. Tom Brady's future is obviously the big question mark, and finding him another pass-catcher could be a priority here if he returns. That said, the Pats need to address their need for youth on the back end of the defense, and Winfield's combination of physical and mental tools would be a perfect match."
Stay tuned to GopherIllustrated for the latest as four Gophers will head to the NFL Combine in Winfield, Johnson, Carter Coughlin and Kamal Martin.
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