Fantasy Debate: Chris Godwin vs. Mike Evans

Jun 26, 2020
Fantasy Debate: Chris Godwin vs. Mike Evans

Chris Godwin and Mike Evans are being drafted as WR6 and WR7, respectively, leaving boards in the second-to-third round depending on site and format. In this debate, Justin Edwards will argue for Chris Godwin, while Eric Moody takes the side of Mike Evans.

The Case for Chris Godwin

Justin: Uncertainty at the quarterback position turned into a giant net-positive for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday, March 20th and with it, Chris Godwin’s fantasy outlook strengthened. After finishing 2019 as the overall WR2 despite missing two games, Godwin has been gifted Tom Brady, whose wide receivers have historically won in the short and intermediate of the field —an area that the 24-year-old pass-catcher has been thriving in for the prior two seasons.

In 2019, Mike Evans’ and Godwin’s usage at or under 20 yards down the field came to a head, with Evans’ usage in that area dropping by 19% while Godwin’s same-area usage rose 23%. With Brady’s propensity to get the ball into his receiver’s hands and let them eat up yardage, Godwin’s 120 2019 targets just took a shot in the arm.

Three-Year Trend for Short & Intermediate Usage
Year Brady Att. ≤ 20 yards Godwin Tgts ≤ 20 yards Evans Tgts ≤ 20 yards
2017 506 (4th) 45 113
2018 523 (7th) 85 113
2019 561 (3rd) 105 92

More targets would clearly be a boost to raw stats, but how can we be sure that an increased target share is going to make a large difference, especially if Mike Evans were to receive an equal boost in share (even if I don’t believe that’s the case)? We can look at yards after the catch to surmise whether or not Godwin could compensate for his relative lack of downfield targets, where 6’5”, 230-pound Evans makes his paychecks. If last season is any indication, that won’t be a problem; Godwin’s 7.1 yards after the catch per reception ranked him seventh, while Evans’ 4.3 YPC/rec ranked 75th, behind the likes of Greg Olsen, Anthony Miller, and Jacob Hollister. Maybe the “Mike Evans is a great tight end” trope does have a little merit.

It may be an easy comparison to make, but the low-hanging fruit tastes just as good; the stars are aligned for Chris Godwin to become the 42-year-old quarterback’s new (more athletic) Julian Edelman. Winning in the same area of the field (142 targets ≤ 20 air yards in 2019), Edelman has absorbed 150+ targets in each of the three seasons he has played all 16 games.

The elephant in the room here —an elephant that would likely take targets from Godwin as opposed to Evans— is Rob Gronkowski. I certainly don’t want to ignore the 79 touchdowns that Gronk has scored through his time playing with Tom Brady, but I don’t think he has the ability to stay on the field for enough time this season to make a difference in the overall outlook of either receiver. Between Bruce Arians’ tendency to downplay the tight end in his offense, and the Brady-led New England Patriots ranking dead last with a 9.0% tight end target share in 2019, I don’t see Gronkowski, O.J. Howard or Cameron Brate earning a big enough piece of the pie to squash our hope of Chris Godwin becoming Florida’s Julian Edelman.

At the time of writing, Chris Godwin is going at 2.10 in 12-team leagues while Mike Evans is going two spots later at 3.01. Since we’re receiving no discount on the volatile Evans in an offense that is going to run more sustainably and efficiently by Tom Brady as opposed to the Jameis Winstons and Ryan Fitzpatricks of the past, give me the high-floor, ascending talent in Chris Godwin 10 times out of 10.

The Case for Mike Evans

Eric: Mike Evans has been the focal point of the Buccaneers offense his entire career. The arrival of future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady is unlikely to change that. Evans’ rookie year back in 2014 coincided with wide receiver Vincent Jackson’s last season with 1,000 or more receiving yards. He is now 26 years old and has six seasons on his NFL resume with 1,000 or more receiving yards.

Evans has averaged 9.3 targets, 5.1 receptions, 80.7 receiving yards, and 14 half-point PPR fantasy points per game in 90 active games since 2014. The only other wide receivers who have averaged a higher number of receiving yards per game than Evans since 2014 are DeAndre Hopkins (83), Odell Beckham (87), Michael Thomas (87.5), Antonio Brown (100), and Julio Jones (102). Evans has finished as a WR1 or better in 50% of his career games.

Many are quick to point out his efficiency. Evans has averaged 1.2 fantasy points per game over expectations since 2014. His expected points and fantasy points over expectation on a per-game basis are on par with Keenan Allen, Jarvis Landry, and Hopkins. Expected points are the number of fantasy points that a target should score based on the game situation. Fantasy points over expectation is an efficiency metrics that account for yards and touchdowns by combining them into a single number. Did you know that Evans leads all receivers with 135.2 air yards per game since 2014?

Heading into this season, he will have to adjust to change in a quarterback. The Buccaneers’ decision to sign Brady is a clear indication that Tampa Bay wants to transition away from the inconsistent play of Jameis Winston. Which member of the dynamic duo of Chris Godwin and Evans who ranked second and fourth in the league, respectively in receiving yards per game, thrive the most with their new quarterback?

Throughout most of Buccaneers’ head coach Bruce Arians’ career, he has deployed an aggressive, vertical passing offense. Brady is a precisionist in the placement of his passes and will be able to get the football to Evans in a way that’ll maximize his contested catch and yards after the catch abilities. Evans will be the most talented wide receiver Brady has thrown passes to since Randy Moss. During the Patriots’ epic 2007 season, Moss averaged 6.1 receptions, 10 targets, 93.3 receiving yards, and 21 fantasy points per game in half-PPR formats.

Evans is still early in his second contract with the Buccaneers. He signed a five year, $82.5 million contract with the team, including $55 million guaranteed. Evans will be provided with all the targets he can handle from an accurate quarterback. His frame, strength, and speed make Evans the quintessential eraser for inaccurate throws. This is something he dealt with on a regular basis with Winston under center. Brady still has enough arm strength to throw the football deep. He tied with Kyler Murray for the 13th most pass attempts targeted 20 yards downfield last season with 62. Brady had a deep passing completion percentage of 42% for 728 yards and a quarterback rating of 102.1 on those throws with a questionable group of wide receivers in New England.

Take a moment to think about how dire the situation was with the Patriots in 2019. Tight end Rob Gronkowski had retired. Josh Gordon was unproductive, injured, and subsequently released before landing with the Seahawks. Tight end Ben Watson was suspended for the first four games of the season and was 38 years old. N’Keal Harry and Mohamed Sanu did not step up to fill the void. Brady has an innate ability to elevate the talent around him. He has a perfect opportunity to showcase his deep ball passing with Evans and Godwin in 2020. Did you know that the Buccaneers dynamic duo (2,490) finished last season with more receiving yards than the Patriots top-six receivers (2,472) combined?

Many assume that Godwin should be prioritized in fantasy over Evans because of how slot receivers such as Wes Welker and Julian Edelman have thrived with Brady in the past. Godwin is coming off of a career-high season in receptions (86), receiving yards (1,333), and touchdowns (9). He also accumulated 68 targets, 50 receptions, 838 receiving yards, and five touchdowns from the slot in 2019. However, Evans is no slouch when it comes to thriving in the slot. His size and athleticism allow him to be productive anywhere on the field. Evans caught 21-of-25 targets for 330 receiving yards and three touchdowns from the slot last season. He’s only averaged 22.4 targets per season from the slot from 2014 to 2018. Brady has a history of providing targets to receivers, tight ends, and running backs lined up in the slot. Godwin will not have a stranglehold on the slot opportunities.

Evans also led the Buccaneers in red-zone targets last season. This trend has a good chance of continuing in 2020 given Brady’s history of touchdown passes. He has thrown 541 touchdown passes to 77 different players throughout his illustrious career, with Gronkowski (78) and Moss (39) accounting for the highest number.

The Buccaneers have a number of players to feed offensively from a target perspective, but with Brady, under center, the quality will be better than it has been in previous seasons. This is an area that differentiates Evans from Godwin this season. Evans, Gronkowski, and Moss are big-bodied receivers and Godwin is not. You should prioritize Evans and not Godwin in fantasy drafts this summer.

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