- Even with Mike Evans entrenched as Tampa Bay's top receiver, Chris Godwin is a legitimate breakout candidate.
There are only two conclusions one can draw upon hearing Bruce Arians proclaim Chris Godwin could be “close to a 100-catch guy” in 2019: Godwin will overtake Mike Evans as the Bucs’ No. 1 receiver, or Tampa will shatter NFL passing volume records.
“He’s never coming off the field,” Arians added at the league's annual meetings in March, forcing me to relive the trauma of believing Buffalo coaches a while back who said C.J. Spiller would get the football until he puked.
Only six teams in NFL history have sustained two 100-reception pass-catchers, including last year’s Steelers. It requires quite the collision of factors: an exceedingly narrow target distribution, two dominant receivers, and a massive volume of pass attempts. Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster combined for 334 targets in 2018, and the Bucs might have something along those lines in 2019 with Evans and Godwin soaking up all the targets. Maybe Jameis Winston will even finish 2019 as fantasy’s No. 1 quarterback, supporting two elite fantasy receivers.
Here’s the thing, though. Evans, in five incredibly productive pro seasons, has never cracked the 100-reception mark. And Evans has enjoyed the role of a target hog throughout the various offensive schemes and quarterbacks he’s endured in Tampa. So yes, Godwin—the third-year wideout who drew 95 targets in 2018, posting WR26 numbers—would probably have to become the team’s No. 1 receiver, or share the role with Evans, to catch 100 passes.
Any time a head coach or offensive coordinator makes a seemingly outrageous comment about a player’s potential, it’s only natural to examine that coach’s history to see if his outlandish claim has any basis in the vast computer simulation we call reality. Such an examination hardly ever offers a crystal-clear view of what the coach may or may not do in the coming season, though it can inform our decision making, and therefore our process, which is our queen, our king, our every deity.
Below is a look at the opportunity, measured in targets, of every WR1 and WR2 in an Arians offense since he got his first coordinator gig in 2001.
Most of Arians’ early offenses were among the run-heaviest units in the league—the 2007 Steelers were 31st in pass attempts—while his latter offenses in Indianapolis and Arizona were among the NFL’s pass-happiest. Arians’ 2012 Colts threw the sixth-most passes, while his 2016 and 2017 Cardinals were top-five in passing volume (though 2017 wasn’t by design, as the Cards were a flaming trash heap for much of the season). We can probably dismiss Arians’ early work as an NFL play-caller safely, and instead focus on his recent history of favoring the pass.
Eight of Arians’ 14 years as an offensive coordinator or head coach have produced multiple 100-target pass catchers. One of those seasons, 2016, saw a running back, David Johnson, rack up the team’s second-most targets, a rarity for an Arians offense. Suffice it to say, Tampa Bay is very likely to support two 100-target guys in 2019, namely Evans and Godwin. Godwin, after all, fell into 95 targets in 2018 as a part-time player as Bucs coaches forced the ball to the shadow of Desean Jackson and the great Adam Humphries.
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A worthwhile takeaway here is that there’s a decent number of Arians offenses that have seen opportunity split between a WR1a and a WR1b. Take, for instance, the 2011 Steelers, when Brown edged out Mike Wallace by 10 targets. Then there was the 2014 campaign, when John Brown came within a single target of Larry Fitzgerald. Of course, Evans hovering around 100 targets for in 2019 would prove catastrophic to his fantasy value, barring an unholy spike in touchdown rate.
But how likely is it that Arians’ offensive scheme can create not one, but two guys who nab 100 receptions in 2019? Lucky for you, I have a handy rundown of reception totals from Arians’ first and second passing-game options over the years.
It turns out, as you may have gleaned, that no two Arians receivers have ever caught 100 passes in a season. You might have guessed as much after reading that only six teams in the history of pro football have had a pair of 100-catch guys. The 2016 Cardinals came the closest, though that was Johnson finishing as the secondary pass-catcher. Let’s pretend 2017 never happened.
None of this really matters, of course, without factoring in average draft positions, since everyone is a value at some point, even if they’re not reeling in 100 balls. Evans is going late in the second round, after eight receivers, while Godwin is being drafted in the fifth round—the 21st wideout off the board. It’s perfectly reasonable to project Godwin—if he indeed never, or rarely, comes off the field—will out-target some of the players being drafted in the WR15-20 range. While that doesn’t guarantee anything, we know Godwin won’t have to be off-the-charts efficient to exceed his redraft price point. Lest we forget, Godwin finished 2018 as a borderline WR2 with a mere 95 targets.
A look at the history of opportunity and production of Arians’ top two receivers shows we can have at least some hope that Evans and Godwin can be values in 2019, though it’d be a stretch to label either guy a screaming value. Hardly even a shouting value, really. But good enough to target at their current ADPs in an offense that could—or, more realistically, should—air it out in 2019.
One doesn’t have to be bearish on one Bucs receiver to be bullish on the other.