Probably the only certainty when it comes to the Atlanta Falcons and the 2020 NFL Draft is that it is likely to be a defensive-heavy one, preferably a class with a thorough focus on adding talent at all three levels of the defense. The result hopefully is an improved defense, especially over one that was 20th overall last season and 23rd in points allowed.
What’s probably even more fascinating is that based on the Falcons draft history under general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn, the team has been known to have a wider range of draft value for certain prospects. They are not afraid to target who they want, regardless of projected draft range. This draft cycle will be no different.
When it comes to Atlanta, they are going to add talent on defense however they deem fit. Today, it’s time to turn the spotlight on a prospect that has garnered considerable attention from the Falcons brass, one who can add a unique jolt to the defense.
Antoine Winfield Jr. Scouting Report
Weight: 203 pounds
Career stats: 172 career tackles, seven tackles for loss, four sacks, nine interceptions, two interception return touchdowns, three fumble recoveries
Games watched: 2018 vs. New Mexico State, 2019 vs. Penn State, 2019 vs. Nebraska, 2019 vs. Iowa
The University of Minnesota found a resurgence in 2019 with an 11-2 season and part of it had to do with Winfield and his game-changing playmaking ability. Winfield was a first-team All-AP and first-team All-Big Ten as a result of an outstanding 2019 season. When it comes to Winfield’s game, first thing that comes to mind and pops on film are his instincts. At this stage of development, they are pretty polished. Because of them, Winfield can make a case as the most instinctual safety in the entire class.
Winfield showcases the capability to be interchangeable as a deep cover safety in Cover 3, split cover safety in Cover 2, and even take on the occasional duty in the slot. Winfield has impressive ball skills and takes acute angles when it comes to breaking on the ball. Those ball skills also translate to his habit of attempting to force turnovers by punching the ball and raking the ball from ball carriers. In addition, his ball tracking skills are sharp.
Despite a smallish stature, Winfield plays aggressive yet disciplined. When utilized as a blitzer, Winfield is able to get home and finds an ideal path to make a play in the backfield. Winfield also shows a great deal of agility when tasked to move laterally a considerable distance.
Winfield does not necessarily possess an ideal NFL frame. Because of his slight frame, adding mass may not be a considerable option for him and may affect his quickness and agility. Winfield suffered season-ending injuries in both 2017 and 2018, playing in only eight games combined in both seasons. That aspect of course will raise durability concerns for some.
Despite displaying a 4.45 40-yard-dash at the NFL Combine, the speed does not always show on tape. Winfield’s overall lack of length heightens his need to be a precise tackler at the NFL level.
Winfield has the bloodlines in his back pocket which helped him as a kid growing up. While his father was a former All-Pro NFL cornerback, Winfield Jr. has an opportunity to etch his name at the NFL level and be a reliable starter for years to come.
Most of the attention and praise that Winfield gets is because of his profound ability in pass defense but he has proven to be a stud in run defense as well with those instincts and aggressiveness. Throw on the tape and you will easily see that Winfield was the best defender on the field for Minnesota. At times, he made the necessary play to give his team momentum and/or turn the game around in the Gophers favor. Generating turnovers has been a true hinderance for the Falcons over the last three seasons as they ranked 20th or worst in each of the last three seasons.
That is where Winfield comes into play. Granted, the Falcons have utilized the services of Ricardo Allen and Damontae Kazee in recent seasons at the free safety position but to be quite honest, neither has shown enough to elevate a defense in certain aspects. Kazee is an unrestricted free agent next offseason while Allen has a lowered cap hit next offseason and could be a cap casualty. Since Winfield is as versatile as they come as a free safety, he can allow Allen to see more nickel CB snaps (where he spent quite a bit of time last season) and at times can allow the Falcons to get exotic with a 3-safety look at times.
It’s not far-fetched to think that Winfield is a fringe first rounder this year and with the Falcons unorthodox style of drafting, it’s not out of the question that he can be a possible target on Day 1 for Atlanta. If not, the Falcons may still be aggressive and target the top-40 prospect in the early second round. Plain and simple, the Falcons need playmakers at every level of the defense. Winfield bringing that playmaking element to Atlanta can give the defense something they have lacked for quite some time.