Buccaneers Winfield Jr Is On Pace To Be One Of The Greatest Safeties In NFL History


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made Antoine Winfield Jr. the highest paid defensive back in the NFL. It wasn’t a move that was surprising to those who follow the Buccaneers closely. Winfield Jr. has established himself as possibly the best safety in the game today and a leader on this team.

General manager Jason Licht went as far as to call him a guy who is on a hall of fame track. These are strong words from the front office and writing him that check only emphasized their belief in this young super star. But how much of that statement was hyperbole?

Is Winfield the next great safety in this league? Earning All Pro honors last year certainly puts him in that conversation. However, when talking about the Hall of Fame, we should be comparing him to Hall of Fame players.

I took some time to compare Winfield Jr’s young career to some of the best safeties in recent memory. How did he stack up to some of the all time greats? Here’s what I found.

Brian Dawkins

The first name that came to mind to compare Winfield Jr. to was Dawkins. The Philadelphia Eagles legend played with a similar toughness against the run while having plus coverage skills. I also view Dawkins as a top five safety of all time, so this is a high bar to measure up to.

It turns out, Winfield Jr. did better than expected. Dawkins earned his first pro bowl in his 4th season and his first All Pro in his 6th. Winfield Jr. has obviously achieved those things faster, in his 2nd and 4th years respectively. 

In terms of production, the biggest advantage Dawkins had was in the interception department. Through four seasons he pulled in 12 interceptions, while Winfield Jr. has only recorded 7. And although passes deflected wasn’t a recorded stat for the first three years of Dawkins career, it’s safe to say he has the edge there as well.

After that, everything else plays in Winfield Jr’s favor. The Buccaneers safety has over 100 more tackles, 11.5 more sacks, 4 more forced fumbles and 3 more fumble recoveries. While Dawkins may have been the better coverage player, there is no question that Winfield Jr. is better in the box.

Troy Polamalu

Perhaps Polamalu is a more apples to apples comparison. Afterall, Dawkins played free safety most of his career, where both Winfield Jr. and Polamalu both played more of a strong safety role. After not playing much as a rookie, Polamalu took off as one of the best safeties of all time starting in his second season (which is where I will start in terms of comparing the two).

Polamalu had a much faster rise to the top than Winfield Jr. did. The Steelers star earned pro bowl and second team All Pro nods in his first season as a starter. In his first four seasons playing he had 4 pro bowls, two second team All Pros and a first team all Pro. Polamalu also finished 3rd in Defensive Player of the Year voting in his second season whereas Winfield Jr. finished 6th last year.

However, statistically these two are closer than the awards might indicate. Winfield has 60 more tackles, 5 more forced fumbles, and 10 more sacks than Polamalu. On the other hand, Polamalu has 3 more interceptions, 12 more passes deflected and 1 more tackle for a loss. A pretty equal split of the most impactful stats.

The Biggest Stage

Oftentimes, what makes a player legendary is their most iconic moments. The biggest plays against the best competition. Shining the brightest when the brightest lights are on you. 

Moments like Dawkins picking off Michael Vick in the 2004 NFC Championship game or Polamalu’s pick six in the 2008 AFC Championship game. Iconic moments in not only their franchise’s history, but in the history of the NFL.

Winfield is still building that resume, but already has some iconic moments of his own. Let’s not forget that it was his crucial forced fumble on Jared Cook that turned the tides in the divisional round against the Saints. Winfield Jr also got in on the fun with an interception against Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl. Two moments that helped shape the history of the league as the Buccaneers went on to become Super Bowl champions.

These players are also remembered for their aura. Whether it be Dawkins entering the stadium like a wild beast on all four legs or Polamalu jumping over the line of scrimmage and timing the snap perfectly, this image helps cement their legendary status. Winfield Jr is still building this, but his iconic peace sign to Tyreek Hill in the Super Bowl will live on forever in NFL history.


Obviously, Winfield Jr still has a long way to go to be talked about in the same breath with the legends of the game. However, when you are 25 years old and the best player at that position, we can’t help but to imagine how this type of player might stack up. There is no arguing that Winfield Jr stacks up well compared to the best in recent memory.

However, the hard part will be what comes next. Sustaining this level of play for the next 5-8 years. That’s what separates great players like Colts defensive player of the year Bob Sanders and Hall of Famer Ed Reed. Being great for a generation, not just a year or two.

Can Winfield Jr cement himself as one of the all time greats over the next ten years? He absolutely can. He has the talent, as well as the coaching and talent around him to thrive. Weather he will or not is something we will all have to wait and see. Stay tuned.

For more from J.T. click here, then make sure to follow him on Twitter.

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