Antoine Winfield Jr. just declared for the NFL Draft via his Instagram account, seen above.

This is an expected move by the All-American Safety but fans were holding onto hope that he would return for his Redshirt Junior season, after he waited a little longer than some others to make his NFL Draft declaration. It’s a smart move for him, as I’m not sure he really could have improved his draft status, even had he performed spectacularly for another big year that was injury-free. For the Gophers, it leaves a depleted defense even more vulnerable in 2020 now that they’ve lost their entire linebacking core, both defensive ends, and now their best overall defender, and anchor at safety, to graduation or the draft.

This shouldn’t get you down though, Gopher faithful. PJ Fleck was expecting this defensive purge and has recruited a fantastic new defensive core for the next few years. While they get acclimated, the Gophers return just about everyone on offense, beyond Rodney Smith and Tyler Johnson. That offense might have some additional work to do while their defense grows up a little bit.

Overall, this is an extreme positive for the Minnesota Gopher football program. We will have plenty of players who will leave early, during Fleck’s tenure, because that’s what happens to good teams.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan