One of the greatest to ever do it in purple and gold at the cornerback position only stood 5’8″ and weighed 180 pounds. Antoine Winfield was an absolute monster in his position and didn’t let any receiver stand in his way. Winfield could easily make the argument that he is one of the best to ever do it in the NFL period, and not just as a Viking. There are plenty of narratives for him, but the only one that may matter was his ability to completely shut down receivers on any given Sunday.
Defending Passes As A Buckeye
Winfield played college football at Ohio State University from 1996 to1998. While he did have good years leading up to his senior year, it would be that ’98 season that stood out from the rest. That season he took home two incredible honors as a defensive back. One of those is a consensus selection as a 1st Team All-American. Secondly, Winfield won the Jim Thorpe Award. To those unfamiliar, it is the highest award given to a defensive back in college football. The award recognizes you as the greatest defensive back in the entire Nation. After his senior season, Winfield would take his talents to the NFL Draft.
The Buffalo Bills Years
Winfield would go on to be drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1999. He was selected in the first round and as the 23rd overall pick. While playing in Buffalo from 1999 to 2003 Winfield started in 58 games. In his four years in Buffalo Winfield was able to compile a nice stat line. He recorded 357 total combined tackles, six interceptions, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and one sack. There was one thing that Winfield was able to do while in Buffalo above the rest. Winfield had an incredible knack to sniff out that ball. He made it happen in the air. Then he made it happen on the ground. It was a big win for the defense.
As the 2003 season came to a close Winfield became an unrestricted free agent and hit the market. That would lead to an interesting scenario in the NFL between two teams. It had been reported that Winfield agreed to terms with the New York Jets. However, Winfield visited with the Vikings after the report and ended up signing a contract with them the next day. Winfield was a Viking.
Leading The Vikings Defense
After the Jets drama, Winfield’s contract with the Vikings was recorded at six years for $34.8 million. He also received a signing bonus worth $10.8 million.
One of the best things about Winfield on that football field was his ability to lead the defense. He did it so easily. Maybe you didn’t see it vocally through the television screen all the time. But you could definitely see it in his play on a consistent basis. When Winfield was out there quarterbacks didn’t throw it his way unless they absolutely had to. Watching him size up a receiver a foot taller than him and shutting him down was every corner’s dream.
There wasn’t a corner in the league that could tackle as good as Winfield. He was a sure tackle. Nine times out of ten, if not ten times out of ten he’d be making the tackle. That was such a rare trait it seemed for defensive backs. Many would argue it still is in today’s league. Winfield would stop the runner every time they came to his area with a simple wrap-up tackle at the knees or ankles. That is something that you definitely don’t see often today. Other players on the team saw that and followed in suit. It was Winfield’s play that made him the leader of the Vikings’ defense for many years.
The Best Corner In The League
There is a legitimate argument out there that Winfield was one of the best if not the best corner in the league. In the 2000’s he did it all. Winfield has the stats to prove it. He played in 119 games for the Vikings (2004-2012), starting in 115 of them. In those games, he totaled 737 combined tackles, 6.5 sacks, 21 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles, and nine fumble recoveries. Two of his interceptions were also returned as a touchdown. There may not have been another corner at the time that was able to put up those types of numbers.
Not only did he have great stats for the Vikings, but he was also a three-time Pro Bowler. The league recognized Winfield as a threat. Teams have to change game plans when there is a defensive back who can shut down receivers. That is a trait that isn’t on many teams. It makes everyone play different, making Winfield a game-changer.
The End of An Era
As mentioned Winfield played in purple and gold for nine seasons. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. The Vikings released Winfield in 2013. What he left behind was something extremely impressive. The stats are obvious, Winfield currently sits 6th overall on the Vikings’ all-time solo tackles list. That isn’t the only list he resides on still. On the NFL’s career tackles list, Winfield is 61st.
Besides the stats, you go back and look at the film of Winfield. He was so quick to his assignment. As mentioned he was a shutdown corner. When there was a tackle to be made, he made it. Opportunities would come up for an interception, and it wouldn’t go unnoticed by him. His natural playing ability and skill set were unlike any other. Imagine today’s Vikings’ roster with an Antoine Winfield.
Winfield did everything he could to make sure the Vikings’ defense wasn’t at fault for the loss of a game. He took great pride in his line of work and wasn’t afraid to stick his head in there with the big boys. It truly was a thing of beauty, especially if you’ve ever played the position before. Winfield will go down as one the greatest Vikings to play, especially at the defensive back position.