Top 20 NFL Sooners, No. 20: James Winchester

John. E. Hoover

In the past 20 years, the Oklahoma Sooners have experienced arguably their most productive era ever in the NFL Draft.

From the 2000 to 2019 drafts — the entirety of the Bob Stoops and Lincoln Riley years — OU has had 95 players drafted.

Using today’s 7-round comparison, that’s more than any other two-decade era in school history. In the 1970s and ‘80s, OU had 131 players drafted, but only 88 were selected in the first seven rounds.

In the last 20 years, the Sooners have produced some historically good players. Every day leading up to this year’s NFL Draft (April 23-25), SI Sooners presents the Top 20 NFL Sooners of the last 20 years.

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James Winchester only wanted to be a Sooner.

“I never really had NFL dreams,” Winchester told SI Sooners.

That makes his NFL journey even more compelling.

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A former walk-on wide receiver from Class A Washington, Oklahoma, and the son of 1985 national champion punter Mike Winchester, James went to OU games as a kid and figured he was a good enough receiver to earn a spot at his dad’s alma mater.

He was — sort of.

Winchester walked on in 2008 but quickly realized he might have a tough time finding a job at receiver. In 2009, there was an injury at long-snapper, and the 185-pound Winchester decided to show Bob Stoops what he could do.

Stoops was impressed enough to let Winchester start the season opener, a 57-2 win over Chattanooga. Those two points? A Mocs safety, courtesy of Winchester’s first career punt snap.

“Yeah, not a real good start,” he said.

The next year Winchester won the long snapper job while still dabbling at receiver. Before his senior year, he finally earned a scholarship.

But when the NFL came calling, it was for a deep snapper, not a receiver. Winchester finally gave up on the wide receiver dream, worked on his craft and hung around in training camps and preseason for a couple years (he even got a real job) before his opportunity came with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013.

In 2015, he finally stuck with the Kansas City Chiefs. He’s been KC’s deep snapper ever since, playing in all 16 games every year for the last five years.

Long snappers don’t have the volume of plays to impact a game that an offensive or defensive starter does, but they either must deliver almost flawless consistency — or they contribute catastrophic plays and quickly are out of a job.

In Winchester’s case, his perfect snaps on punts and placekicks make him as good at his job as just about anyone in the NFL.

Last year, of course, was extra special. The day after winning the AFC Championship Game and securing a date in Super Bowl 54, Winchester and his wife Emily welcomed their second child.

Two weeks later, Winchester and the Chiefs defeated San Francisco 31-20 and were Super Bowl champs.

“Never imagined being part of a Super Bowl. It’s pretty cool,” he said. “You dream of that when you’re little, and you imagine that growing up. … I can’t get my head around it.”

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Our Top 20 list was chosen by five voters: SI Sooners publisher John Hoover, deputy editor Parker Thune, long-time OU fan and amateur Sooner historian Anthony Jumper, OU school of journalism student Caroline Grace, and OU history and stats expert Steven Smith (aka Blinkin Riley).

The criteria was simple: former Sooners who played at OU during the last 20 years and went on to an NFL career. The rest (i.e, their NFL career) was purely subjective. Players received 20 points for a first-place vote, 19 for second, etc., down to 1 point for 20th. A total of 28 players received votes.

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