Antoine Winfield adds to Seahawks 'Legion of Boom' defense
Winfield signed a one-year deal with the Seahawks in the offseason. He wanted to join Seattle because he wants to win the Super Bowl and likes his chances here.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Age: 35 (36 on June 24)
Height, weight: 5-9, 180
Drafted: No. 23 overall in 1999, by Buffalo Bills
College: Ohio State
RENTON — Antoine Winfield is not big, which is something he has heard all his life. But there's another part to Winfield you need to see, and the best way to do so is by pulling up YouTube highlights of him playing.
In one, he delivers a hit along the sideline that knocks off a receiver's helmet and rips his chinstrap off. In another, he sticks a return man on special teams with a helmet-to-chest tackle. "That is playing football," Cris Collinsworth gushed on the broadcast in 2006. "That kid is a stud. Perfect."
Watch enough of these pieced-together clips, however grainy, and one truth becomes apparent: Antoine Winfield, all 5 feet 9 and 180 pounds, can hit.
"You gotta want to tackle, and that's what Antoine Winfield wants to do," said Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. "It's an attitude you have to have."
Winfield enters his first year in Seattle with a lofty pedigree. He has been selected to three Pro Bowls and has for years been considered one of the best tackling cornerbacks in the league.
But he will also be 36 in June, and he will be playing in his 15th season. Winfield played in all 16 games for the Minnesota Vikings last year after playing in just five games the season before.
Winfield signed a one-year deal with the Seahawks in the offseason — general manager John Schneider said Winfield's agent was aggressive in reaching out because he wanted to play with the team's secondary — and the battle between what his age means for his body and speed vs. what it means for his mind will be interesting to follow.
"He's very crafty out there," Chancellor said. "Sometimes we see him break on routes and it's like he knew the route was coming."
Said Winfield, "There's only so many coverages you can run, and I think I've ran about all of them."
Winfield will play in the slot as the Seahawks' nickelback, but he has played all over. The one constant has been his tackling. That goes back to his college days at Ohio State, when then-Bills player personnel director Dwight Adams told the Buffalo News before the 1999 NFL draft that Winfield "plays like his hair is on fire."
There were questions even then whether Winfield's size would be able to hold up against bigger receivers. But what Winfield lacks in height and weight, he makes up for with technique; former Bills special-teams coach Bruce DeHaven said Winfield, then a rookie, was maybe the best tackler he'd seen in 13 years in the NFL.
Seattle's secondary has adopted the nickname the "Legion of Boom," deriving, in part, from the big, hard-hitting members of the secondary. That group has a new boomer, just in a different package.
"While he doesn't necessarily fit our size requirements for the position, he's always been a player that's compensated for that deficiency with his intensity, his instincts and his tackling skills," Schneider said in April. "He's always been a phenomenal run-support player."
According to Pro Football Focus, a site that analyzes and grades NFL teams and players, the Seahawks were the best team in pass coverage last season. The site had Winfield graded out as the best cornerback against the run and also the highest-rated corner in the league, just ahead of Richard Sherman. He has held that top spot three times in the last five years.
Winfield recorded a remarkable 101 tackles and was on the field for 1,057 snaps last season, the 12th-most of any corner in the league. That number should decrease now that Winfield will slide into a nickel role, but Schneider said Winfield will likely play between 50 and 70 percent of the time.
"I knew Seattle had a great team, and I just want a chance to compete for a championship," Winfield said. "I thought my best place to go was here."