The 2017 season was not exactly a banner year for rookie wide receivers. Chris Godwin, however, was one of the few bright spots with a strong finish after a slow start to his debut campaign.
Godwin was a RotoViz favorite throughout the pre-draft process, upsetting JuJu Smith-Schuster in our Sweet 16 Prospect Tournament on the strength of his stronger overall college production profile. However, his stock started to tumble after being drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the 84th overall pick. The Bucs not only had a No. 1 stud WR in Mike Evans, but Godwin was also behind Adam Humphries. Not to mention that the team spent a first-round pick on tight end O.J. Howard and added DeSean Jackson in free agency. Add it all up, and Godwin was facing an uphill battle for targets in his rookie year.
That’s exactly how the season started for the rookie, but not how it ended. Let’s dive in with a look at his top historical comparisons based on his inaugural campaign.
Chris Godwin Comps
To do this, I set the RotoViz Screener to search for comparable rookie WR seasons between 2007 and 2017 based on a number of statistical outputs, including raw numbers and efficiency, as well age, weight, and draft pick. Where a player is selected in the NFL draft still has influence in his second season, though that influence does decline over time.
Here are Godwin’s five best comparables.
It should be noted that these players are not listed in the order of the most comparable.
The closest comparison according to the Screener is Mike Thomas. No, not the Thomas of Saints’ fame. And no, not the Thomas from the LA Rams, either. This Thomas was drafted 107th overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2009 and was given a solid 62 targets as a rookie, but Godwin posted 72 more yards on seven fewer targets. Thomas is probably best known for catching one of the craziest Hail Mary passes in NFL history, when the defender batted it down straight into his hands for the last-second win.
Next up is Sidney Rice, who had about the same number of targets as Godwin, but also put up significantly less yardage as a rookie. He went 40 spots higher in the draft but compares well to Godwin in terms of weight and age.
DeVante Parker slots in as the next-closest comparable, and other than being a mid-first-round draft pick, he stacks up very well to Godwin in terms of size, volume, and efficiency. While Godwin doesn’t have a similar draft slot, he was a year younger as a rookie.
Perhaps the least applicable comparison here is Donte Moncrief, who is bigger and plays more of an outside, deep-threat, speed role than Godwin. He was also buoyed be elite quarterback play as a rookie, while Godwin was catching passes from a regressing Jamies Winston in 2017.
Allen Robinson also has 11 pounds on our man and had a much stronger target profile, receiving about 32 percent more looks than Godwin as a rookie.1 Still, Godwin only put up 23 fewer total receiving yards, one less touchdown, and played at about the same age as the future WR1.
What Did They Do As Sophomores?
To get an idea of a ceiling and a floor for Godwin in 2018, let’s take a look at what his comparables did in Year 2.
Thomas had a career year in his second season but quickly flamed out of the league after that. Curiously, Moncrief also had his best season as a sophomore before posting two sub-400-yard outings in the years to follow. Same goes for Parker, who surged in his second campaign before regressing in Year 3. Parker and Moncrief also came up as comparable players to Godwin during out pre-draft scouting process.2
Meanwhile, Robinson emerged as a true stud, parlaying 150 targets into 1,400 yards and 14 TDs as a 22-year-old sophomore. This is the ceiling to dream of with Godwin, but it’s important to remember that he isn’t as big and won’t see that kind of target volume in Tampa Bay.
Rice regressed badly, though it’s worth pointing out that he exploded in for an 83-1,312-8 line in his third season — his lone elite year before fading back into obscurity.
Looking at Godwin’s year as a whole doesn’t really tell the entire story. If we were to divide his rookie year, his list of comparables would look much stronger. The Bucs barely looked Godwin’s way in the initial nine games before finally deciding to see what they had in the rookie.
Dare to dream of what Godwin’s rookie season would look like had he been that involved all year. The Splits App puts him on pace for an 884-yard, 152-point season from Week 10 onward. That would have put him in Smith-Schuster territory as a rookie, another player that he compared favorably to in our offseason scouting process.
Like his Pittsburgh counterpart, Godwin is also very young at 21 and has plenty of room to develop.
I’ve mentioned Godwin’s third-round draft stock, and although that obviously doesn’t preclude him from stardom, it doesn’t help. Neither does the fact that DeSean Jackson isn’t going anywhere in 2018, considering $7.5 million in guaranteed money and a $7.5 million dead cap hit. That dead cap number moves to zero in 2019, however, which may eventually allow the Bucs to give Godwin more opportunity. The presence of mega-stud Mike Evans also caps his long-term upside.
Godwin looked great when the Bucs finally got him involved in the latter part of the year, but he’s in the company of other playmakers, including O.J. Howard, who could take a step forward, and Godwin will once again battle to draw significant targets in 2018.
A modest 20 to 30 percent increase in yardage is realistic, but it’s a stretch to project a true Allen Robinson-like breakout, at least in 2018.