In kicking off our summer Calling Canton series, we noted there are a number of ways for players to gain critical acclaim. Some generate immediate attention, others blossom later in their career and a few benefit from adjusted judgments over time.
A few of you tripped over that final category, but I think we have an excellent example in Minnesota Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield. To be clear, I'm not including Winfield in this series. Fair or not, a player with three Pro Bowl selections in 13 seasons isn't likely to draw the serious attention of the voting committee.
With that said, I'm happy to see Winfield benefiting from adjusted judgment over time in the final years of his career.
Cornerbacks with low interception totals are often bypassed for postseason awards, and Winfield played 10 years before his first Pro Bowl recognition. Even Winfield has admitted his Pro Bowl years weren't necessarily his best, but it takes time for some less tangible attributes to be evident on a national scale.
To that end, I thought Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus did an excellent job putting together a comprehensive analysis to demonstrate why and how Winfield is a special player. In describing him as the NFL's "most complete" cornerback of the 2010 season, Monson noted:
Winfield's well-known but often devalued tackling ability allowed him to lead the league, in PFF's analysis, in tackles by a cornerback that resulted in an offensive failure on the play.
He was not penalized last season, one of two cornerbacks with at least 1,000 snaps to do so.
PFF's film study revealed Winfield did not give up a touchdown last season, and the longest pass completed against him was 27 yards. Obviously there is some subjectivity to that analysis because only players and coaches know who was responsible for whom in coverage. Winfield allowed 7.8 yards per reception by this analysis, however, and on a relative scale the only cornerback with a lower figure was Asante Samuel of the Philadelphia Eagles. It's only fair to point out that Winfield's figure was skewed downward because of how often he lines up in the slot. The Vikings don't often match him up on the outside against speed receivers.
Winfield blitzed 32 times, picking up two sacks, seven pressures and one fumble/touchdown return against the Eagles.
Monson makes clear Winfield is not the best cornerback in the NFL, a point I would agree with. But the numbers illustrate a cornerback who tackles well, is disciplined if not elite in coverage and has playmaking instincts on the blitz.
Winfield has averaged 1.8 interceptions per season in his career, a figure that has often clouded judgment of his overall game. There are many observers, including some NFL coaches, who can't understand this late-career fascination. To me, it's overdue. It might sound strange, but here's what I've always thought: Winfield is a better football player than he is a cornerback.