Chris Godwin Probably Won't Catch 100 Balls. It Doesn't Matter.

Chris Godwin Probably Won't Catch 100 Balls. It Doesn't Matter.

There are only two conclusions one can draw upon hearing Tampa Bay Head Coach 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, 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 Pittsburgh Steelers. It requires quite the collision of factors: an exceedingly narrow target distribution, two dominant receivers, and a massive volume of pass attempts. The Bucs might have that in 2019 with Evans and Godwin soaking up all the targets—JuJu Smith-Schuster and his understudy Antonio Brown combined for 334 targets in 2018—and maybe Jameis Winston will finish 2019 as fantasy’s runaway QB1. 

But here’s the thing: Evans, in five incredibly productive pro seasons, has never cracked the 100-reception mark. And Evans has enjoyed a target hog role 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. 

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 of every WR1 and WR2 in an Arians offense since he got his first coordinator gig in 2001. 

Top Receivers in Bruce Arians' Offenses
Year Team WR1 Targets WR2 Targets
2001 Browns 129 72
2002 Browns 120 97
2003 Browns 93 79
2007 Steelers 113 85
2008 Steelers 124 114
2009 Steelers 138 137
2010 Steelers 98 95
2011 Steelers 124 114
2012 Colts 195 124
2013 Cardinals 135 113
2014 Cardinals 103 102
2015 Cardinals 145 101
2016 Cardinals 150 120
2017 Cardinals 161 69

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 most pass happy. Arians’ 2012 Colts offense 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). Probably we can dismiss Arians’ early work as an NFL play-caller and focus on his recent history of favoring the pass, which has surely triggered the anti-analytics crowd. 

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 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

A worthwhile takeaway here: there’s a decent number of Arians offenses that have seen opportunity split between a WR1a and a WR1b, like the 2011 Steelers, when Antonio Brown edged out Mike Wallace by 70 targets. Then there was the 2014 campaign, when John Brown came within a single target of Larry Fitzgerald. Of course, something hovering around 100 targets for Mike Evans 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. 

Top Receivers in Bruce Arians' Offenses
Years Team WR1 receptions WR2 receptions
2001 Browns 84 44
2002 Browns 67 63
2003 Browns 62 46
2007 Steelers 71 52
2008 Steelers 81 55
2009 Steelers 95 79
2010 Steelers 60 59
2011 Steelers 72 69
2012 Colts 106 60
2013 Cardinals 82 65
2014 Cardinals 63 48
2015 Cardinals 109 65
2016 Cardinals 107 80
2017 Cardinals 109 33

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 in the late 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 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 (should) air it out in 2019. 

One doesn’t have to be bearish on one Bucs receiver to be bullish on the other. 

 

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