Scouting Combine Safeties: Like Father, Like Son
Part 3 of our three-part look at the 26 safeties includes Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield Jr., Georgia All-American J.R. Reed and a pair from Clemson. (Underclassmen are noted with an asterisk.)
Chris Miller, Baylor (6-0, 191): Miller had career highs of 76 tackles, 2.5 tackles for losses and two forced fumbles as a senior. He had a career-high 13 tackles vs. Oklahoma in the regular season, then matched it in the Big 12 Championship Game rematch. In four seasons, he had zero interceptions and six pass breakups.
He's a “heat-seeking missile” in the secondary but it cost him three targeting penalties. “Going as hard as I am, I have to learn to control it, especially on quarterbacks,” Miller told the Waco Tribune. “Coach (Phil) Snow has worked with me day to day on lowering my target, properly tackling somebody, and sometimes even going for the ball in that situation to prevent those calls. I try to limit it as much as possible because I want to be there for my team.” He lost his father during his sophomore year. “It crushed me on the inside. I feel like if I didn’t have that support system behind me, I definitely would have imploded,” he said in this video.
Tanner Muse, Clemson (6-2, 230): Muse was a third-team All-American and team captain as a senior, when he recorded a career-high four interceptions along with 73 tackles, six tackles for losses and seven total passes defensed. He closed his career with seven picks and 237 tackles.
During his senior season, he dated a member of rival South Carolina’s dance team. His brother, Nick, is a tight end at South Carolina. “A lot of people judge. They post on social media, ‘Why would his parents let him go to South Carolina?’ But for us it was each of our boys going down the path that they thought was the right fit for them,” their mom told the State. “We love the Clemson Tigers. We’re just getting used to the Gamecocks, and everybody’s been so welcoming.” He had a “magical” Senior Day. From a young age, he was taught to hit. “From the first time I ever strapped on pads, my dad and I would go out in the front yard, and he bought his own set of shoulder pads and helmet,” he told the school athletics site. “He said, ‘If you can hit me as hard as you can, nothing else will phase you throughout your playing career.’”
J.R. Reed, Georgia (6-1, 194): As a senior, Reed was a first-team All-American and finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which goes to the nation’s best defensive player. He had one interception, eight total passes defensed, one forced fumble and 54 tackles. For his career, he had five interceptions and had a streak of 42 consecutive starts.
His father, Jake Reed, was a standout receiver for the Vikings and Saints over 12 NFL seasons. "That's where I found the love and passion for sports, no matter what it is," Reed told the AP. "I can be playing checkers around the house with my family. Everyone's going to compete, everyone's going to work hard. We can be playing Connect Four, we're going to compete at that. It doesn't matter how big or how small the game is, we're going to compete." Jake nudged his son to play defense. “For him to finally see he was as good or better on that other side, he used that as a path to make a name for himself on the other side of the ball opposite of his dad,” Prestonwood Christian Academy secondary coach Verone McKinley told Macon.com. Even with the famous dad, he wasn’t a hot recruit – and recruiting interest waned even more when he suffered a torn ACL in his final high school game. So, he started his career at Tulsa in 2015 with the intention of getting to a better school. After one year, he decided to transfer. “The coaches need to know who you are,” Jake told his son, via the Athletic. “You’re not coming in as a five-star. You’re not coming in with any big write-ups.”
L'Jarius Sneed, Louisiana Tech (6-1, 193): Snead closed his career with back-to-back seasons of three interceptions. As a junior, he added eight breakups for 11 total passes defensed. As a senior, he added six breakups for nine total passes defensed along with a career-high 73 tackles to earn second-team all-conference.
He had eight career interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns. The playmaking skill showed in high school, when he scored 19 touchdowns as a senior. A brother, T.Q. Mims, played quarterback at Arkansas Pine-Bluff.
Geno Stone, Iowa* (5-10, 210): In three seasons, Stone intercepted six passes and forced four fumbles. As a sophomore, he had four interceptions. As a junior, he had a career-high 70 tackles, one interception, four additional breakups and three forced fumbles to earn second-team all-Big Ten.
Stone’s goal for the 2019 season was to win the starting job – a job he already had earned. “I said my goal is to win my starting job back,” Stone told Hawk Central of a conversation with defensive coordinator Phil Parker. “I said I just want to feel like I’ve never arrived, like you always told me since my freshman year. … In the NFL, you never know what’s going to happen. You can get dropped or anything. So that’s how I’m going to feel here.” Stone was lightly recruited. Kent State was his only offer; nearby Penn State wasn’t interested. “I’m thankful now that I didn’t go to Penn State,” Stone told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I know that the best place for me, both as a player and as a student, is the University of Iowa. I came here and tried to learn, make myself better. I’m lucky that this is where I ended up.” In fact, the New Castle, Pa., native took nine unofficial visits to Penn State. He got zero offers. “My first question when I saw film (of him) was, ‘What is wrong with this guy? Did he rob a bank?’” Kirk Ferentz told All Hawkeyes. “He looked like a good player to me.”
Daniel Thomas, Auburn (5-11, 209): Thomas started as a junior and senior. His career totals were 199 tackles, five interceptions and three forced fumbles. As a senior, he matched his career high with 74 tackles and had a career-high 5.5 tackles for losses. As a junior, he had career highs with two interceptions, five passes defensed and two forced fumbles.
Thomas wanted to go to Auburn but Auburn didn’t have any scholarships open. Ultimately, as Signing Day approached, Thomas’ church prayed for an offer from Auburn. When one target decommitted, the prayer was answered. “Honestly, I think about it every week,” Thomas told the Montgomery Advertiser. “I don’t know how I even got here. But, by the grace of God, I’m here. It’s kind of crazy, but it’s a dream come true.” He closed his career with a bowl game against Minnesota; where Thomas was going to go to school had the prayer not become reality. Position coach Wesley McGriff was there as a freshman and returned as a senior. “He sets the table, and that’s what you want safeties to do in this league,” McGriff told Al.com. “They have to be able to recognize formations, make the checks and the calls. Just today, seeing him in passing today, he was headed into go watch tape on an opponent. So those are the kind of things you want to see player mature over time, and Daniel is guilty of that right now.” In high school, he also played basketball, track and tennis.
K'Von Wallace, Clemson (5-11, 205): A 36-game starter, Wallace finished his career with 156 tackles (5.5 for losses), five interceptions, 15 additional breakups and two forced fumbles. As a senior, he had career highs with 72 tackles, two interceptions, 10 additional breakups and 12 passes defensed.
When Wallace was born, his father was in prison. He grew up in public housing, with crime and drugs right outside the door. His single mom worked hard to put food on the table and the lights on in the house – though sometimes ends failed to meet. Their journey paid off. Wallace is headed to the NFL and has completed microinternships with Cisco in 2018 and the National Football League in 2019. “I just want this story just to be of hope to someone else, to all the single mothers who struggle with raising fatherless children, to just keep their head up,” she told the State. “Just know that as long as you believe in yourself and you teach your children to believe in themselves and you have faith in God, you can do anything.” Wallace didn’t have any scholarship offers until he posted a self-edited highlight video on Twitter. “I asked all my friends and teammates to retweet it, and it blew up. It was crazy,” Wallace told the New York Post. “I wanted to show the world what I can do. You want your story to be as good as it can be.”
Antoine Winfield Jr., Minnesota* (5-10, 205): Winfield was a unanimous All-American with a school-record seven interceptions. He added 88 tackles (three sacks, 3.5 tackles for losses) and two forced fumbles. He was named the Big Ten’s Defensive Back of the Year and a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation’s top defender. For his career, he had nine interceptions and 15 total passes defensed.
His father, Antoine Winfield Sr., was a star defensive back for the Bills and Vikings. There was no pressure from his Pro Bowl father, though. "He has my name, but I have told him to be his own man," Winfield Sr. told the Houston Chronicle while his son was still in high school. "Being my son only gets him so far. Eventually he has to get out there and make the plays." Because of that, as his defensive coordinator told him before he started at Penn State as a freshman, “You were born for this.” He returned three punts in his career; he returned one for a touchdown. So dangerous with the ball, the coaches toyed with putting him on offense, too, though that never happened. He was caught up in a sexual-assault scandal in 2016 and missed most of the 2017 and 2018 seasons with hamstring and foot injuries, respectively. “It wasn’t as hard as going through it the first time,” Winfield Jr. told the Star Tribune before the season. “I already knew what it was like. I already knew I had to stay grounded and just keep telling myself I was going to come back better than I was before.” The ball skills, of course, from his dad. “Yeah, it comes from him, and from film study,” Winfield Jr. told USA Today. “Him teaching me how to watch film. When he was in the pros, we’d sit in the bedroom, and he’d be looking at film, and I’d be watching him breaking it down. Showing me what the receivers do and the route concepts and everything.”
LET US INTRODUCE YOU TO THE CLASS OF 2020
Introducing the 26 Safeties
Introducing the 35 Cornerbacks
Introducing the 31 Linebackers
Introducing the 34 Edge Rushers
Introducing the 25 Defensive Linemen
Introducing the 20 Tight Ends
Introducing the 25 Offensive Tackles
Introducing the 17 Guards
Introducing the 10 Centers
Introducing the 55 Receivers
Introducing the 30 Running Backs
Introducing the 17 Quarterbacks