MINNEAPOLIS - Antoine Winfield Jr. probably had to check to make sure it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke at the time, but he got a shout-out on social media from a current NFL star with three weeks to go before the NFL Draft.
Tyrann Mathieu, now a safety with the Kansas City Chiefs, posted on Twitter on April 1 that he thinks Winfield will be a two-time All-Pro by the time he’s 30 years old.
“I see that when I watch him. He smart. Go to sleep & think bout the plays he gon make. I hope we get him,” Mathieu wrote.
Winfield was shocked and honored when he learned what the man nick-named “Honey Badger,” a two-time All-Pro selection at safety and coming fresh off winning a Super Bowl, had to say about him.
“It’s ridiculous. I grew up watching him play when he was in college. I was like a kid at the time and I just remember watching his highlights. I was like man, this guy is a dog and now seeing what he does in the league, it’s just crazy. Just to be shouted out by him like that, that’s special.” Winfield told Fox 9’s Jim Rich on Sunday.
Winfield is coming off a historic year in his only fully-healthy season with the Gophers. He led Minnesota with 88 tackles, seven interceptions, 3.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks. He was the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year, a First Team All-Big Ten pick and a consensus All-American.
Winfield is one of many pro prospects whose life has been turned upside down due to the Coronavirus pandemic. He won’t be working out at any upcoming pro days. He’s limited to having video chats with teams, and the only workouts he can do are on his own.
He did workout at the NFL Combine, opening the eyes of scouts and team officials with a 4.45 time in the 40-yard dash, a 36-inch vertical and a 124-inch broad jump. Now, he’s just focused on staying healthy, staying in shape and waiting for a phone call on April 23, the first night of the NFL Draft. He could be a first round pick, and his draft grade has him being a starter within his first two seasons.
“It’s way different because we’re not in control of things. All we can do is put our best foot forward in front of the teams and it’s different because at the end of the day, you’re not deciding. Somebody else is making that decision for you,” Winfield Jr. said.
He may not have to go very far to start his NFL career. The Minnesota Vikings have two first-round selections, and have vacancies in their secondary with Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and Andrew Sendejo all departed in free agency. It’s also not known yet if Anthony Harris will return after being designated with the franchise tag.
One thing he is sure of is that he’s grateful for three years with P.J. Fleck. He reflected Sunday that Fleck is the most influential person he knows.
“Just being able to be around him for the last three years, he influenced me and motivated me pretty much day in and day out because that’s just the type of person he is. He’s the real deal,”
Winfield Jr. said. “A lot of people have their own judgments about him, but he’s a great guy. Being around him the last three years, he’s just a great overall person. He’s a players’ coach, and you want to play for a coach like Coach Fleck.”