Chris Godwin: Hype or Ascension
Stoke the flames of the old, coal-burning hype-train ladies and gentlemen. It’s moving at full speed and carrying a boxcar load of Chris Godwin. Let’s face it, offseason hype is an annual tradition for fantasy football enthusiasts. Between coach-speak and industry hype Godwin is becoming a frequent name in breakout columns. Some of the hype is deserved, if not warranted. But, there are factors that could quickly apply the brakes to all of this momentum. Is Chris Godwin a “close to a 100-catch guy,” as head coach Bruce Arians stated? Here, we are going to look at the data and opportunity to determine how far this particular train can roll.
Chris Godwin: Hype or Ascension?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got Godwin more involved than his rookie season. He responded by improving in nearly every statistical category from his rookie season. He finished with more targets (95), receptions (59), yards (842), and touchdowns (7) than his 2017 campaign. Only Mike Evans and Adam Humphries saw more targets than Godwin. His 62.1% catch-rate was third-best on the team and his seven receiving touchdowns were good enough for second among those same peers.
For fantasy purposes, Godwin finished as the WR25 while operating as the third or fourth receiver in a crowded core of pass-catchers. An interesting factor and a little dab of foreshadowing are that when DeSean Jackson was out of the lineup, Godwin’s fantasy output nearly doubled. Regardless of personnel on the field, Godwin was a target machine in the red zone. He finished with an 18.2% target share inside the red zone which led all Buccaneers receivers.
As noted in the graph above, we can see that Godwin had some very good performances, despite being typically thought of as an ancillary receiving option. Having shown above average success when utilized is most likely part of the rationale behind some of the statements made by Arians.
The free agency season has come and moved on as we head into the NFL draft portion of the offseason. During the free agency period, several key moves were made that affect both the team and Godwin as a fantasy asset. Both DeSean Jackson and Adam Humpries have moved on to new teams. The initial fantasy mindset immediately latches on to vacated targets. But, there is more than that to be excited about.
The Buccaneers have added Bruce Arians and bring his coaching style (see article here) to the table. Since then, Arians has performed his coach-speak role very well. Stating that Godwin is “close to a 100-catch guy,” and that “he’s never coming off the field.” Goodwin was on the field for over 64% of offensive snaps last season. General manager Jason Licht went on to say that Godwin would “play the role like Larry did,” referring, of course to Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals. If Licht lit the fire, Arians fanned the flames admirably. Now, it is worth mentioning that it is difficult to fully invest in the veracity of every statement made by a coach at this point of the season. However, there are bits and pieces that are worth further analysis.
A Rise in Opportunity
The mention of the Larry-role is pointing towards the Buccaneers planning on lining Godwin up more from the slot. Godwin only played from the slot approximately 23% of the time last season due to Humphries filling that role. With the departure of Humphries, this role and associated targets are up for grabs. This should also result in a higher catch-rate with more of the targets being short to intermediate passes for chunk yardage. Notice the parallel opportunity rate incline between Humpries and Godwin in the graph below? Both saw statistical increases in opportunity, efficiency, and performance last season.
Then there are the vacated targets, all 179 of them. Of course, raw vacated targets does not automatically mean that they are all shifting Godwin’s way. However, we should see a healthy uptick in targets, target share, and Godwin’s already substantial red zone target share. All of this bodes well to support the hype that has been building.
This brings us to Jameis Winston. In 2018 the Buccaneers were fourth highest in the NFL in total pass attempts with 625. (The 625 passing attempts were from both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Winston.) During his five-year career with the Cardinals, Arians’ quarterbacks averaged 589.6 pass attempts per season. However, the Cardinals had a defense for most of those years that could keep games close. This is an area that the Buccaneers struggled mightily, especially last season. Projecting right around 600 pass attempts is within the realm of expectation, even with the loss of two receivers. Tight end O.J. Howard is going to soak up some of those targets; both in an out of the red zone as well and should be factored into projections. As the graphic below shows, Winston; who is no longer plagued by a journeyman peering over his shoulder, has always had a keen eye for his tight ends. However, his second highest passer rating was when targeting the slot receiver.
With the absence of Howard through much of the season, we saw Winston buckle down and target his receiving core more last season than in the previous three. There is no mistake that the two factors are correlated. What that led to on the field, was more slot targets than previous seasons and a higher passer rating when doing so. There is certainly some merit to assuming that with Howard returning and healthy for 2019 that this trend would revert to a more normal target share. Having seen Arians’ affinity for plays that target the slot receiver could very well keep this trend in line with the distribution we saw last season. Especially if Godwin is performing well with those targets.
Hype or Ascension?
Does Godwin truly profile as a 100-catch guy? Honestly, no. Not with Mike Evans healthy and effective. It is also worth noting, that despite being a reliable yearly target, Evans has never eclipsed triple-digit receptions. Godwin’s catch rate would need to drastically improve as would his overall target share. While improvement could certainly happen with the move to the slot, it is highly doubtful that he would make that much of a jump. However, there remains a lot to be excited about for Mr. Godwin. It’s said in fantasy over and over again, that opportunity is king. The increase in opportunity and the shift into the slot bode well for projected fantasy points. While we saw increases in opportunity and output, there remains plenty of doubt that we have actually seen Godwin’s potential ceiling.
His early average draft position (ADP) has him as the 22nd receiver off the board, going in the middle of the fifth round. That places him behind Jarvis Landry, and Robert Woods and in front of Tyler Boyd and Mike Williams. All of the receivers mentioned here are, at best, the secondary receiver for their respective teams.
Bottom line is that right now Chris Godwin is Schrodinger’s Cat in the sense that represents both hype and ascension simultaneously. That is until we open the box. Due to the hype created by the “100 catch guy” comment, and the free agency departures, his draft stock has risen above where he finished last season. What that means for fantasy is that the window to acquire him cheaply is rapidly closing if not closed. There is some reading in between the lines that suggest that the Buccaneers have the utmost confidence in Godwin to succeed to the same level, if not more so than Humphries in the same role. After all, they let two receivers walk in free agency. Godwin’s place as the team’s WR2 is secure, and the upside potential is very present. Call me an optimist, but I’m opening this particular box and expecting to find ascension.