Leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft, The Post is breaking down the draft class by position in an 11-part series. Tomorrow: specialists.
Antoine Winfield Jr. can challenge a worthy training partner without defying any stay-at-home orders.
If he needs a push, one of the top safeties available in the 2020 NFL Draft just pulls away his willing 42-year-old father — a retired three-time Pro Bowl cornerback — from his other time-suck activities during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I have a gym at my house so I’m able to lift, and we have a field a mile down the street where I’m able to do footwork,” Winfield Jr. told The Post before breaking into laughter. “All [my dad] does is work out and play video games.”
Winfield Jr. proudly carries his father’s name — never going by A.J. or another moniker — but he is out to set his own path. He starred at Minnesota, Big Ten rival to his father’s Ohio State.
“My dad always told me to be my own individual,” Winfield Jr. said. “I don’t want anything given. I want to earn everything. A lot of people call me Antoine Winfield. Sometimes I don’t like when they call me my dad’s name because I want to create my own identity by just being myself.”
Winfield Jr.’s on-field identity is simple: Ballhawk. He was fourth in the nation with seven interceptions, adding three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles while playing free safety, strong safety and slot cornerback last season.
“He is going to be there before he gets there,” Minnesota safeties coach Joe Harasymiak said. “The No. 1 reason is preparation and film study. And then he just has incredible instincts. If he sees a run read or a pass release by a receiver, he is going to know what’s coming next. Now he is one step ahead of the quarterback or running back.”
Case in point: A pick-six against Rutgers on Oct. 19, when he melted into the throwing window for a deep crossing route off a naked bootleg.
“My goal was to create one takeaway per practice … and get one takeaway each game,” Winfield Jr. said. “Coach Harasymiak taught us to visualize our success, and the only way to do that is by watching film and being in that moment.”
Despite his family legacy, the 5-foot-9, 203-pound first-team All-American is humbled to be mentioned alongside two top NFL safeties.
Devin McCourty is NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s player comparison. Tyrann Mathieu predicts Winfield Jr. will be a two-time All-Pro by age 30.
“He gives you some versatility,” Jeremiah told The Post. “He’s not real big and long, so he will miss some tackles, [whereas] his dad was one of the best tackling DBs I’ve ever seen in my life. But he is Johnny on the spot. The guy who the football always finds him, that usually carries up a level.”
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Winfield Jr. is projected as a second-round pick and might not slip past the Giants at No. 36.
“I see a team using him in multiple ways,” Harasymiak said. “He made a living this year on the blitz in the A-gap. He has great reactions to certain blocks. I think you have to let him be free and don’t lock him into one thing.”
After missing 17 of the previous 25 games due to injuries, Winfield Jr. started all 13 games and made 88 tackles in 2019. He still is answering his biggest pre-draft knock: Can he stay healthy?
“That’s really what I emphasized this year,” Winfield Jr. said. “One way I did that was staying in the treatment room and cold tubs. I made sure I took care of my body even when it doesn’t hurt because you never know what could happen.”
Winfield Jr. knows what will be expected after the draft.
When he and his two younger brothers weren’t playing “Crush the Carrier” in childhood “just to tackle each other,” he curled up next to his father in bed to watch film of opposing receivers. He has had a sounding board ever since.
It took until senior year of high school, but Winfield Jr. finally holds an edge in those father-son workouts, too.
“He started me off young doing footwork drills, learning how to pedal out of a break in the backyard,” Winfield Jr. said. “The thing we’re talking about right now is working different techniques I’m likely to see. He knows pretty much everything there is to know about football, which is good to have on my side.”
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