Rick Spielman’s Seat Feels Hotter Today After Antoine Winfield Jr Wins Defensive Rookie of the Month

Photo: Buccaneers.com

I feel like I’m mad at every authority figure across the Minnesota sports landscape this week. Last night, it was Rocco Baldelli and the Minnesota Twins analytics department. Today, it’s Rick Spielman’s turn. The Minnesota Vikings are terrible in 2020 and that’s partly due to their reliance on newly drafted players who weren’t ready for NFL play.

You know who was ready for NFL play, though? The guy who was just ripping up TCF Bank Stadium not even one year ago, Antoine Winfield Jr. He’s thriving in Tampa Bay and was just awarded NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Month (September) as the Buccaneers starting Safety.

Antoine Winfield Jr has been one of the best safeties in the NFL and that’s not a shocker to anyone who reads this website. I was begging Rick Spielman to take Antoine Winfield Jr leading all the way up to the draft. He was a no-miss pick. Instead, we got Jeff Gladney.

Steal of the 2020 Draft

Winfield is currently #5 among all 2020 safeties, in PFF grade. Anthony Harris is nowhere to be found on that list. Always reliable, Harrison Smith is #2. Even if the Vikings wanted to keep Harris around, Winfield would have been really good in the slot for one season (read below). In fact, Zimmer likes to blitz his nickel corners a lot and Winfield is the only safety in the NFL (among the top-30), who rates +80 in pass rush grade, at 91.2.

Winfield’s contributions have helped the Buccaneers get off to a 2-1 start and rank fourth in the NFL in yards allowed and seventh in points allowed. He stepped right into the starting lineup in Week One despite not having the opportunity to play in any preseason games or learn the defense during an extensive offseason program.

Winfield has also already demonstrated the remarkable versatility that has drawn him comparisons to veteran stars Tyrann Mathieu and Budda Baker. After playing free safety throughout the Buccaneers’ first two games, Winfield opened the third contest at that position in Denver on Sunday but later moved to the slot corner spot after Sean Murphy-Bunting left with an injury. Winfield recorded a sack while blitzing out of the safety position and a pass defensed while blitzing out of the slot.


Spielman’s 2020 Draft Class

Zim and Kubiak finally let Justin Jefferson loose last week and it paid off to the tune of 175 and a TD. Yet, they are still afraid to insert 3rd-round draft pick, Ezra Cleveland, into a real-game situation (7 snaps all season). That’s while knowing the offensive line can’t block Kirk Cousins without him, anyway. Like, how much worse can he be than what we’ve seen?

Arguably just as bad as the offensive line, is the state of the Vikings secondary. The cornerbacks can’t cover anyone and the safeties are being exposed because of it. Holton Hill and Mike Hughes are nowhere near as ready for big-spot roles, as we thought they were. Meanwhile, the two rookies (Jeff Gladney and Cam Dantzler) might as well stay in the locker room. Or maybe they can get lost on their way to the field, like they do while on it?

Sidebar: You know who tops the PFF leaderboards for cornerbacks? Xavier Rhodes, who rates as an 89.0. While Spielman and Zimmer can blame the Rhodes situation on money but that doesn’t explain away the miss on Antoine Winfield Jr.

Rick Had No Reason to Miss Winfield

Rick Spielman sat behind me in the press box of TCF Bank Stadium for multiple Gopher football home games last season (oh good for me). He had a better seat than any other GM, to watch Winfield destroy his competition. Yet, when the draft rolled around and the Vikings came up at #31 overall, they chose Gladney instead. The Bucs would eventually select Winfield at #45 (2nd round).

Flash forward to today, the Vikings are 0-3 with one of the worst secondaries in the NFL. Antoine Winfield Jr., on the other hand, is winning the first Defensive Rookie of the Month for 2020. Rick and Mike had better turn this ship around in week 4 or questions like this will become much more pressing.

Maybe if the Vikings had drafted Winfield Jr., or found a way to keep just one more member of the 2019 secondary, Mike Zimmer wouldn’t have to snap at reporters for reading off facts about his shitty defense.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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