This year’s class of wide receivers is being praised for its depth beyond the consensus top three in Mike Williams, Corey Davis and John Ross. But Chris Godwin has a case to be a name mentioned with those top prospects locked in for the first round.
Having just turned 21 a few days before he wowed scouts during the drills at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, Godwin not only confirmed he has the desired measurements of a top receiver, he showed he has the explosion and speed to stand out among a strong group of pass catchers.
Godwin turned heads this year in Indianapolis, but he truly made his name known two months earlier.
Going into the 2017 Rose Bowl, Godwin was already the focal point of Penn State’s passing offense. With 50 receptions, 795 yards and nine touchdowns under his belt during the regular season, he was a known threat to USC’s secondary. Still, Godwin exploded for nine catches, 187 yards and two touchdowns. NFL.com fantasy writer Matt Harmon, who also created Reception Perception, claimed on Rotoworld.com writer Josh Norris’s podcast that Godwin’s performance against the Trojans was the best he’s ever charted under the Reception Perception project this year. And after looking at the film for myself, it’s not hard to understand that sentiment. Let’s look at all of his catchable targets and notable reps.
His first catchable target was a simple tunnel screen:
Nothing much to it, the play is snuffed out from the beginning as #5 for Penn State whiffs on the slot corner, and Godwin manages to create two yards on his own by sinking his hips and basically fall forward.
Next up we have the first deep dig of the game:
We see Godwin enter the screen near the top of his route. He has inside leverage throughout, and makes a layered cut inside. He goes from showing a go route, to a post route, to finishing his break and running the dig. A common theme from this contest was Penn State’s quarterback pretty much always throwing from an adjusted pocket, so he’s set up to throw from the far hash, and gets just enough zip on the ball to reach Godwin.
Godwin separates cleanly from the corner and has space in front of him to operate, but the long distance required by the throw forced the ball to be behind Godwin, requiring him to adjust by going back and boxing out the corner, and making a play on the ball. This is great work by Godwin by not letting the ball come to him, and not letting the corner cross his face.
Godwin’s next target is a little more ambiguous to evaluate:
USC is showing press coverage on Godwin with a defensive back shadowing him over the top. USC’s defense ends up blitzing the corner, giving Godwin a free release, aiding to the rush and forcing the quarterback out of the pocket. Meanwhile, the shadow corner was tasked with keeping Godwin in front of him. Just like with the last play, Godwin does a good job of looking back to his quarterback and working back to the ball, as he hauls in another tough pass for a first down.
Again, Godwin’s next route cannot be viewed entirely, but we can gather what went down:
USC was operating under what we can assume is a deep zone concept. Godwin was going to run a deep post and his tight end was going to run a skinny wheel route from just off the line of scrimmage. The route combination forces the play-side corner to commit to the tight end, which leaves Godwin breaking in the soft spot of the zone. But the window is tight and the throw will be contested.
Godwin settles and gathers before showing off great body control by boxing out the safety in mid air and shielding himself. This positioning he manufactured put the safety in a bind, unable to get a clean tackle on Godwin, who displays great balance to stay on his feet and get a few yards after the catch.
Catch radius can be measured on any route and this next play is a great example:
The spot route is a staple of the Bengals offense, it’s a drive starting play that Andy Dalton is comfortable throwing with anticipation. Godwin shows a little head fake as he breaks upfield to try to sell a vertical route before whipping his head around to see the pass. This is important because the quicker you turn your head, the quicker you can react if the pass is off. Godwin sees the throw is off target and shows great extension to haul it in.
At this point in the game, Godwin is having too much success, so USC has cornerback Adoree Jackson shadowing him. The first time they targeted Godwin versus Jackson, this happened:
On all levels, this is advanced route running by Godwin. The stop and start ability, the hand usage to increase separation, and again, looking back at his quarterback to appropriately track the ball. Godwin didn’t quite catch the ball very clean, but I like that he doesn’t just let the ball come to him, he’s always trying to make hand catches.
Godwin’s route tree this game expands with a quick out route:
With the pass a bit behind him, Godwin adjusts and twists his body to get upfield as quickly as possible and picks up the first down with a diving effort.
Godwin continues to check boxes as he shows field awareness and concentration here:
Godwin gets another free release and establishes inside leverage, and doesn’t make his break inside until he reaches the invisible yellow line. He understands where he is and where he needs to be. His quarterback sees pressure in his face and sees Godwin is basically triple teamed, so he tries to put the ball behind him so he can shield it from the defenders, but he puts it too far behind, forcing Godwin to reach behind him with one hand, corral it, and haul it in upon impact. Tremendous work.
But, Godwin wasn’t done with the end zone just yet:
The replay shows the route better, but here we get to see how he keeps his hands clean off the release and maintain the route at full speed.
Godwin bailed out his quarterback on another occasion, too. Having the corner stacked and behind him, the only reason why this ball is deflected is because it didn’t have enough air under it. Godwin doesn’t have great leaping ability and he could have timed his jump better in this case, but nevertheless, he never gave up on the play, and wound up with another score.
Godwin’s most underrated quality might be his blocking, and we see a good example late in the game:
There’s nothing about form or technique to be discussed with this, because blocking first and foremost is about effort. And he goes full steam ahead to not only seal off the safety, but obliterate him, giving his running back space to operate outside.
Godwin’s final target was the turning point of the game, but unfortunately for him —and Penn State—, it wasn’t the turning point the Nittany Lions were hoping for:
It’s third and long, with under a minute to go, and USC was playing prevent in the form of a cover 2 zone. A play earlier, #22 for USC dropped an interception almost exactly where he ended up catching this one, so they obviously had reason to believe the ball was going this way again. And sure enough, the safety stepped in front of the ill-advised throw and picked it off. There’s not much for Godwin to do, as he was never truly open with the safety lurking in that cover 2 shell. But again, he doesn’t quite have the leaping ability to tower over corners on jump balls downfield, specifically go routes. He can make contested grabs, but he’s no Mike Williams in that regard.
I’ll say it now that we’ve seen the film: judging a player by just one game is not smart when you have more available to you. Under no circumstances does one game make or break a prospect or his grade. But I have watched Godwin’s 2016 film, and despite the production not being as high as it was in this game, all the traits he showed were present throughout the year. He knows how to separate, he has great awareness of the field, his feet are solid and he is a natural hands catcher. This game was simply the ultimate culmination of his season. And with the athleticism confirming the tape, this game can headline Godwin’s impressive resume of what may end up getting him picked in the top 40. If the Bengals go defense in round 1, they should be looking heavily into Godwin in round 2.