Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Gophers’ Antoine Winfield Jr. in NFL Draft

Winfield was chosen with the 45th overall pick.

Gophers Head Coach P.J. Fleck converses with Defensive Back Antoine Winfield Jr. at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday, Jan. 1. Minnesota holds a 24-17 lead over Auburn heading into the third quarter of the Outback Bowl. (Kamaan Richards / Minnesota Daily)

Kamaan Richards

Gophers Head Coach P.J. Fleck converses with Defensive Back Antoine Winfield Jr. at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday, Jan. 1. Minnesota holds a 24-17 lead over Auburn heading into the third quarter of the Outback Bowl. (Kamaan Richards / Minnesota Daily)

Nick Jungheim

Although no team drafted safety Antoine Winfield Jr. during the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft on Thursday, he did not have to wait much longer. 

Winfield heard his name called Friday night. 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Winfield with the No. 13 pick of the draft’s second round, making him the 45th overall selection in this years’ draft. It is the highest any Gopher has gone in the NFL Draft since Ra’Shede Hageman was selected 37th overall in 2014. Minnesota can expect to have a few more players chosen in this draft, but it is no surprise that Winfield went first.

“He’s got natural instincts and he is so aggressive” Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck said in media availability before the draft. “He loves the game. You talk about a good teammate, he loves the game, is going the play the game the right way, respect the teammates.”

Winfield gained national recognition for his outstanding play in 2019, helping Minnesota to an 11-2 record. He led the Big Ten with seven interceptions and ranked first on the team with 85 total tackles. After the season, he was named the Gophers’ first unanimous All-American since 2005.

“You are getting a relentless football player, with an incredibly high IQ,” Fleck said. “You are getting a linebacker-type tackler. You are getting a cornerback coverage person. And then you are getting a wide receiver with the catch radius. So you are getting all of those things and then you are getting one of the smartest players on our team.”

A redshirt sophomore in 2019, Winfield elected to forego his final two years of eligibility to enter the draft. Winfield spent four seasons as a part of the program, but missed eight games in 2017 and 2018 with injuries.

Scouts have praised Winfield for his versatility and athleticism. He flashed at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, running a 4.45-second 40-yard dash.

Poised to make his NFL debut next season, Winfield will carry on the family legacy his father, Antoine Winfield Sr. began. Winfield Sr. was selected in the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft after a stand-out career at Ohio State, playing 14 NFL seasons with the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings.