Antoine Winfield Jr., son of former Pro Bowl cornerback, wants to make name for himself at NFL combine

INDIANAPOLIS – It’s one thing to show up at the NFL scouting combine with a name that everybody knows. Antoine Winfield Jr. is the son of a former Pro Bowl cornerback, which has been quite the reference point as the University of Minnesota safety meets with various NFL teams.

“I feel like every team I go to, people have either played with him or coached with him,” Winfield said during his Friday media session. Or they will tell him, “just anything they remember about my dad.”

His dad played 14 NFL seasons with the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings and made quite the name for himself after entering the league as a first-round pick. Winfield Sr. was a special, tenacious player and arguably the league’s best pound-for-pound value at 180 pounds.

Yet for all the benefits that come with having an accomplished NFL dad, it’s another thing for Winfield Jr. to show up at the combine like roughly 300 other prospects trying to make a name for themselves. That’s why the first-team All-America selection, who entered the draft after his redshirt sophomore season, sounds fired up about the defensive back drills and tests on tap for Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“There have been a lot of questions about my speed,” he said. “So that’s what I’m ready to prove a lot of people wrong with.”

Antoine Winfield Jr. says he tackles just like his dad. (Photo: Jesse Johnson, Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports)

He said the fastest 40-yard dash he’s ever recorded was 4.3 seconds. If he could hit that mark it would be eye-popping, considering only seven players clocked a sub-4.4 time during the first two days of timing. But Winfield was not in prediction mode when asked what to expect.

“Fast,” he replied. “I’ll just say fast and we’ll see you on Sunday.”

Of course, like other layers of Winfield’s package, there’s a nostalgic link to his father when it comes to measuring speed. Winfield, 21, chuckled when recalling a footrace challenge from his dad during his sophomore year at The Woodlands (Texas) High School.

“He thought he was still faster than me, and I’m like, ‘Nah, Dad, you’re getting old,’" Winfield recalled.

Youth prevailed, and he added, “He’s never talked to me about speed ever since that moment.”

Still, Winfield, whom draft analysts rank as a second- or third-round pick, has been all ears when it comes to seeking fatherly advice that helped him develop into a premier playmaker. He got a scouting report from his dad after every game, with pointers on how to improve. That came on top of the at-home model that he emulated, along with talks about the mindset needed to succeed and lessons for how to watch film.

“Watching him work hard throughout his career is what really taught me how to work hard,” he said. “I feel like that’s a testament to me being here.”

Winfield knows. He also embodies a tremendous advantage.

“Yeah, 100 percent,” he said. “At a young age, I was being taught things most other kids weren’t even thinking about at that time. Having an All-Pro dad play football and he’s out in the backyard doing footwork (drills) and I’m out there doing footwork at an early age, watching film at a young age and doing everything most kids wish they had. I don’t take it for granted at all.”

Winfield said his father never pushed him into football, but he knew that from as far back as he can remember he would pursue the same career. No doubt that fueled a certain desire to soak up knowledge and learn the craft.

He told a story about the time when he was 11 and his father lay in bed with his laptop, watching video as he prepared for a particular matchup.

“It was Calvin Johnson,” Winfield said of the all-pro Lions receiver. “He had to play Detroit. I remember sitting next to him and he was watching it and breaking the film down and everything. That’s a cool experience that most people don’t get to do.”

Look at the pupil now. Winfield, who had seven interceptions last season, is a crafty defender who is versatile enough to play either safety position or in the slot. At 5-9, 203 pounds, he’s bulkier than his father. Yet when he watches himself on film, that’s exactly who he sees.

“I’ve seen a couple moments, and I’d say it comes when I’m tackling,” he said. “I’m like I’ve seen my dad make the same tackle, watching his highlights. It’s just crazy to see the comparison between us, because we play the exact same way.”

What a standard. Dolphins coach Brian Flores said earlier in the week that the elder Winfield was his all-time favorite cornerback, no doubt because of his ruggedness and ability to have impact that exceeded his stature.

The younger Winfield knows all about it.

“My dad had a lot of heart, and that’s kind of what I looked up to in him,” he said. “Seeing him go out there against professionals and great guys that you see on TV all the time, that’s something I kind of model my game after. It’s not about how big you are, how tall you are. It’s about how much fight you have.”

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