When the Vikings travel down to
Tompa Tampa Bay for a pivotal matchup against the Buccaneers, they’ll see a new-look Bucs. While everyone wants to talk about Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown (and deservedly so), there will also be a pair of ex-Gophers donning the red and black.
The Bucs took former Gophers Antoine Winfield Jr. and Tyler Johnson in the 2020 NFL Draft. Both players were integral to the U’s banner 2019 season that ended in a bowl victory over Auburn, and both are again making their impact felt in South Florida.
Winfield Jr. has quickly emerged as an early Defensive Rookie of The Year candidate. He’s posted 44 tackles, one interception and one forced fumble through 12 games. This, however, should not be a shock as Winfield’s father, Antoine Winfield Sr., had himself a successful 14-year NFL career, including nine seasons with the Vikings.
“Isn’t it crazy that I’m playing against the Vikings?” asked Winfield in a press conference earlier this week. He went on to share his affinity towards the franchise he grew up cheering for.
As neat as it would have been to see Winfield suit up for the same team as his father, Winfield didn’t represent the right fit for the Vikings. While his tackling and ball-hawking skills are precocious, his coverage ability is lacking. Not to mention the fact that he was selected in between the Jeff Gladney and Ezra Cleveland picks; two players who are already paying dividends.
Tyler Johnson, on the other hand, presents an all too obvious missed opportunity.
The Minneapolis native fell in a stacked wide receiver draft despite putting up gaudy numbers in TCF Bank Stadium. He was finally selected on Day 3, and while he finds himself in a stacked wideout room, he has still managed to be on the receiving end of two Brady touchdowns.
Not only would it have been a nice hometown grab for the Vikings, but Johnson would have fit in perfectly next to Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson as the third wide receiver. Instead, Rick Spielman traded Pick 155 to pick up more of those coveted seventh-round picks, and Johnson was picked five picks later by Tampa Bay.
To add insult to injury, Spielman decided to pull the trigger on K.J. Osborn 15 picks later in the fifth round. Osborn has struggled as a punt returner this season. Let’s not kid ourselves: He may not be on the 53-man roster at the start of next season.
Arians loves to run four-out empty sets, so that’s where we could see Johnson on Sunday, but he most likely won’t be out there in many other situations. Winfield Jr., on the other hand, will likely be plastered all over this game.
Whether it is crashing into the box to help stop the NFL’s second-leading rusher Dalvin Cook, or providing help covering Thielen and Jefferson, you’ll see No. 31 making plays.
The last Gopher to actually make an impact on the Vikings was Marcus Sherels, and the last drafted was Nate Triplett in 2010. While Spielman has been heralded as a draft wizard, he’s passed on a lot of homegrown talent.
You don’t want to force draft picks, and Spielman has a strong drafting reputation. But he better be ready for the Twitter storm headed his way when the pair of former Gophers make big plays for the Buccaneers on Sunday.