When a player can add multiple positions to their arsenal the versatility they bring to the team creates a huge boost in value. For example on the offensive line versatility covers in case of an injury. On defense, a player who can line up in multiple positions can help in disguising a play and confusing the offense. Recent reports suggest Buccaneers’ Antoine Winfield Jr. may be adding another position to his skill set.
Looking back on the 2021 preseason Winfield Jr. found himself primarily playing the free safety. When the season came along this was very much reflected in his snap count. 70 percent of his snaps, 619 in total, were lined up as free safety. Only 66 snaps or a little over seven percent were at corner. The anticipation for 2022 is that this season would very much look the same.
Early reports indicate that Winfield Jr. has been lining up in the nickel corner position on top of his duties at free safety. The Pro Bowler has been in on blitz packages and broken up a few passes in doing so. His speed, around the 4.4 mark in the 40 and his highly instinctive play are naturally suited for the slot. Coupled with the ability to take cues from the quarterback this move to nickel is one that increases the ability for this defense to conceal its intensions.
Tackling Is Key
One knock on Winfield Jr. entering entering the draft was his tackling ability. With a missed tackle percentage of 11.7 in 2020 and 15.8 in 2021 Winfield Jr. will need to be a little consistent to be the most effective he can be at nickel. NFL.com noted in his draft profile “his lack of length shows up as a tackler”. He’ll need to improve in this category for this shift to another position in order for this new wrinkle in the defense to work.
The signing of Keanu Neal and Logan Ryan have made this possible for Todd Bowles and company. Neal has spent 53 percent of his snaps during his career in the slot but also offers versatility. Subsequently, Ryan has lined up there 40 percent of his playing time. All three players being able to constantly rotate around the secondary is a blessing and exactly why the two were brought in this season.
At this time its purely an experiment, one that’s showing promise. This development will need to be watched closely as the season progresses.
With Winfield Jr. grads out far better than the other two do at safety according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). So it’s no surprise he’s listed as starting safety along side Mike Edwards. I would suspect that his time there during the season will be situational. Even with his amount of time in the nickel position during camp.
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