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Antoine Winfield Jr.’s “Elite” Case Gets Even Stronger

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By: Bailey Adams

So much has been said about the 2023 season that Bucs safety Antoine Winfield Jr. had. It was one of the best individual seasons you’ll see a safety – or any player – have. Todd Bowles said as much this week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, describing both the game and practice versions of his star safety.

“He had one of the best seasons I’ve seen a safety have as an all-around player,” Bowles said. “And it wasn’t just in the game. It was in practice as well. He was the only guy, even if we were practicing red zone. If he picked the ball up at the five, he’s going to run 95 yards. And go back in the game. He’s not going to take himself out and go to the water buckets.

Bucs FS Antoine Winfield Jr. – Photo by: USA Today

“If he picked it off in the end zone, he ran 100 yards. Wherever he picked the ball at, or caused a fumble at, he transferred practice to the game… Him and Lavonte [David] are almost better than anybody I have been around in the past few years.”

In 17 games during the 2023 season, Winfield totaled 122 tackles (76 solo), six sacks, six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, three interceptions and 12 passes defensed – all career highs. His six forced fumbles had him tied for the most in the NFL, plus he was the first defensive back since 1999 with 5.0+ sacks and 5+ forced fumbles in a single season. Not only that, but he was just the fourth player since 2000 with 5.0+ sacks, 5+ takeaways and 5+ forced fumbles in a single season.

The crazy part was that Antoine Winfield Jr. wasn’t even rewarded for his phenomenal season in the form of a selection to the Pro Bowl Games. It ended up being no matter at all, though, as the fourth-year safety was a First Team All-Pro selection for the first time in his career. And it was massively deserved, to say the least.

By year’s end, Antoine Winfield Jr. was widely being talked about as one of the best safeties in the NFL. There aren’t many who would argue against him being on the level where he’s considered “elite.” But if there are any doubters remaining about the Bucs’ 2020 second-round pick out of Minnesota, their case got a whole lot weaker this week.

PFF Offers New Evidence To Back Up Antoine Winfield Jr.’s “Elite” Case

Bucs FS Antoine Winfield Jr.

Bucs S Antoine Winfield Jr. and Panthers WR D.J. Chark – Photo by: USA Today

Antoine Winfield Jr.’s grades from Pro Football Focus back up the fact that he was on another level in 2023. In fact, he was the highest-graded safety in the league this season, narrowly beating out Atlanta’s Jessie Bates 90.7 to 90.6.

Winfield had a 91.5 run defense grade, a 92.7 mark for pass rushing and an 87.0 tackling grade. All of those grades had him ranked in the top three, and his coverage grade of 84.0 had him ranked eighth.

To go along with the grades, Winfield has some other insane metrics to his name for the 2023 season. According to PFF, he faced 44 targets in coverage this past season and forced nine incompletions, making for a forced incompletion rate of 20.9%. He also only gave up 74 yards in coverage and recorded an NFL-best 41.2% forced incompletion rate on third and fourth downs.

It was about more than the grades for Antoine Winfield Jr., though. The tape doesn’t lie, and neither does the impact he had on games.

Bucs FS Antoine Winfield Jr.

Bucs FS Antoine Winfield Jr. – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

On two different occasions during the season, Winfield’s hustle saved touchdowns. Against Atlanta, he tracked down quarterback Desmond Ridder and knocked the ball out of his hands before he crossed the goal line, resulting in a touchback. He later did the same in Week 18, refusing to give up on a play against the Panthers and meeting D.J. Chark near the pylon to force a fumble for a touchback once again.

Against Carolina earlier in the season, Winfield had a key sack and a game-sealing interception. In a win over New Orleans, he had a sack, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. And all the way back in Week 1, he had a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in a big road win at Minnesota.

Antoine Winfield Jr. truly had a 2023 season like no other and while he didn’t get the Pro Bowl and Defensive Player of the Year consideration he deserved, he rightfully got All-Pro honors. And he rightfully polished off his case for being one of the NFL’s elite safeties, doing so just in time for negotiations on his second contract.

The post Antoine Winfield Jr.’s “Elite” Case Gets Even Stronger appeared first on Pewter Report.

Originally posted on Pewter Report