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2020 Minnesota Gopher Football Preview: Upgrade or downgrade at safety?

The loss of Antoine Winfield Jr. is significant, can the Gophers still have great safeties?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 Minnesota at Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hard to imagine what the back of the secondary is going to look like without Antoine Winfield Jr. Is it possible to have a 2nd round draft pick gone and still call this position an upgrade for 2020?

2019

Starter: Antoine Winfield Jr & Jordan Howden
Depth: Tyler Nubin, Benny Sapp III, Calvin Swenson

2019 was the year of Antoine Winfield Jr. After missing large portions of the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Winfield Jr was finally healthy for a full season. And the result was a consensus All-American, the Big Ten’s Defensive Back of the Year and 2nd round draft selection. Winfield was just a joy to watch in 2019 and a nightmare for Big Ten offenses.

Along side Winfield was Jordan Howden. In 2018 Howden played all 13 games as a true freshman and frankly, he struggled. As a sophomore he took significant steps forward, finishing tied for 4th on the team in tackles, was third in pass breakups and sealed the Penn State game with an interception. Howden was arguably the most improved player on the defense (maybe Sam Renner).

These two were a great safety tandem. Behind them was true freshman Nubin getting some valuable experience and Benny Sapp III.

2020

Starter: Jordan Howden & Tyler Nubin
Depth: Benny Sapp III, Michael Dixon (FR), Jalen Glaze (FR)

Two of the three guys who saw the most snaps as a safety are back. Howden is entering his third year of seeing significant playing time and has proven to be a high caliber Big Ten player. His experience, going through the Big Ten a couple times now, is going to be invaluable considering the relative lack of experience for the rest of the position group. The key here is that Howden is the 2019 version of Howden.

Nubin was one of the more exciting signings of the 2019 recruiting class and in his freshman season he played in 12 of the 13 games. He has great size to go with this athleticism and did not look like a true freshman throughout most of last season. He now gets to step into the vacated shoes of Winfield Jr. Getting to establish himself will come.

Behind the two presumptive starters, it sounds like the staff is rather high on a couple of true freshmen. Michael Dixon and Jalen Glaze both have received positive reports throughout camp. Excited for them to get some playing time and begin to develop. If they are forced into more significant time, the hope is that talent will exceed their lack of experience.

Sapp is a junior and will very likely be in the rotation, behind Howden. He was highly recruited before a knee injury in high school. Now back at full-strength,

Upgrade / Downgrade

So is this unit an upgrade? No way I can say that. This group is likely a slight downgrade, the slighter the better.

I’m excited about Nubin, I really think that he will make a name for himself in this secondary. Will he be an All-American? Not likely. But is it really a disappointment to “just” have a guy who eventually becomes an All-Big Ten caliber safety? I think he’ll be that guy. But there will be growing pains. Losing Winfield is significant, but Nubin is going to be good.

Howden just needs to be the leader of this unit, making the plays as they come to him.

Then we get to watch the young guys develop. Should be fun and overall should be a deeper unit.

Poll

Are the Gopher safeties going to be an upgrade this year?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    UPGRADE: AWJ who?
    (2 votes)
  • 19%
    NEUTRAL: Nubin steps in admirably, deeper unit.
    (20 votes)
  • 78%
    DOWNGRADE: You don’t replace an All-American.
    (79 votes)
101 votes total Vote Now