Reception Perception: Chris Godwin is the Most Underrated WR in the 2017 NFL Draft
Perhaps the biggest success story in Reception Perception history was identifying Allen Robinson as a future NFL star prior to his 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown 2015 season. The methodology revealed Robinson’s true abilities were on film before the massive production came.
Everyone knew that Robinson could make the highlight reel catch based on his famous 2013 catch against Michigan. What the football world at large may not have known was that Robinson was a detailed technician with a fine release move off the line and a consistent separator on a route-to-route basis. Those were items Reception Perception revealed and those traits helped him leap into a Pro Bowl season in his second season.
As the 2017 NFL Draft approaches, Reception Perception has once again taken an interest in a Penn State wide receiver. One who simply doesn’t get the recognition he deserves as one of the best prospects in this class.
Much like Allen Robinson before him, it doesn’t take the most discerning eye to identify Godwin’s proclivity for making the spectacular play. His Rose Bowl game film against USC is littered with them. That nine-catch, 182-yard dismantling of the Trojans topped with a couple of scores was the best game charted for any wide receiver prospect in this draft class.
We know heading into Chris Godwin’s evaluation that he’s capable of taking over a game on the collegiate level and can win the ball in the air. It will be the goal of Reception Perception to show that like his fellow former Nittany Lion, he has the all-around game to become a top flight NFL wideout.
Alignment and target data
Games sampled: USC, Pittsburgh, Temple, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin
Measuring in at 6-foot-1 and just over 200 pounds, Chris Godwin has the build of a top outside receiver. That was precisely the role he played at Penn State.
Every single snap in Godwin’s six-game Reception Perception sample saw him lined up out wide and on the line of scrimmage. He took 56 percent of his snaps at left wide receiver and another 44 percent at outside right. Godwin never ventured into the slot or lined up as a flanker off the line.
Over the last three seasons of studying wide receiver prospects, I’ve begun to pay close attention to the development of players who took the vast majority of their snaps on one side of the field. Receivers like Kevin White and Dorial Green-Beckham operated in this fashion as a collegiate players and neither has managed to make use of their clear athletic gifts at the NFL level.
While transferring the game from one side of the field to the other may seem like simple task to the reader, one must consider the massive amount of muscle memory that the constant reps of football puts into place for a player. Reversing all aspects of route-running, releasing from the line and working the sideline is a greater challenge when you have little to no experience doing so at the college level. These receivers who come into the NFL playing 80 to 99 percent of their snaps on one side of the field are at a disadvantage as a pro offense rarely stations their receiver on one side of the field on more than 60 percent of their snaps. Perhaps this is one of the aspects of the spread an NFL scout had in mind when he told NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks that the proliferation of that offense was killing wide receiver development.
Godwin doesn’t fall into that category since he moved between left and right wide receiver. Yet, it’s still notable that he didn’t take any snaps in the slot or as a flanker and strictly operated as an X-receiver. One has to wonder if that will factor in while adjusting to the NFL level.
After a 69-catch, 1,101-yard season as a sophomore, Godwin fell back to 59 catches and 982 yards as a sophomore despite his touchdown total jumping to 11. Any lack of production in the offense is no fault to the player in this case. Godwin saw a target on 25.9 percent of his routes run over the course of his Reception Perception sample. The two-year prospect average is 33.2 percent and only Tennessee’s Josh Malone checked in with a lower target per route rate among those sampled this year.
When Godwin did see targets come his way he was mostly efficient in converting them. He caught almost 70 percent of the passes sent to him and dropped just 2.3 percent of them.
Contested catch conversion rate
Often times what helps wide receivers off the top tier distinguish themselves is the presence of a trump card in their game. In Mike Williams’ evaluation, it was concluded that his dominance at the catch point gave him a trump card, a skilled exemplified by his 81.3 contested catch conversion rate. Williams’ score is the fourth-highest recorded over the last two years and Chris Godwin has him beat.
Godwin’s insane 85.7 percent contested catch conversion rate is the highest among prospects charted the last two years. He narrowly edged out well-known high-pointer Josh Doctson from 2016, who owned an 85 percent conversion rate.
Not only does Godwin play at an elite level in traffic, he also shows an advanced understanding of timing and hand use when leaving his feet. He’s not as tall as a player like Williams or Doctson, but his ability in the air gives him just as much of a catch radius. His overall play strength makes him a force in close quarters with a defender.
Of course, the true appeal to Godwin goes beyond his trump card trait. His ability as a route-runner and separator must also get the recognition it deserves.
Success rate vs. coverage
While Chris Godwin can come down with catches despite a defender being in his hip pocket in contested situations, he’s also a strong route runner who can leave them behind. Godwin posted a 73.5 percent success rate vs. coverage in the games sampled for Reception Perception. That was the fourth-highest score in the 2017 NFL Draft class and falls at the 76th percentile among prospects the last two years.
Godwin also showed well when facing zone defenses. His 85.5 success rate vs. zone coverage checked in as the fourth-highest among prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft. His 68.8 percent success rate vs. double coverage was above the 80th percentile.
There were a number of reps where Godwin showed off a pristine set of release moves from the line of scrimmage. He used deception, strength and quick feet to elude defenders’ jams off the line. However, there were also moments where those moves faded and he slipped into bad habits. The result was a 68.1 percent success rate vs. press coverage, which was above the average along the 53rd percentile, but was not quite as elite as his other marks.
Godwin, along with John Ross, Carlos Henderson and Ryan Switzer, was one of only four receivers this year to post an above average success rate vs. coverage score against all type of defenses measured. Godwin is the biggest member of that foursome, which just serves to underscore how impressive his route technique is at this stage of his development.
While I don’t like it to be used as a negative or criticism of a draft prospect’s abilities, one of the trickier parts about projecting college wide receivers to the NFL is how their route trees skew to a small handful of inside-breaking routes. Carlos Henderson, for example, ran an out-breaking route on just 4.5 percent of his patterns sampled for Reception Perception. The NFL will ask receivers to run a wider variety of routes.
Chris Godwin doesn’t come with this asterisk in his scouting portfolio. Not only did he show an ability to run the full route tree, he was quite adept at executing out-breaking routes.
Red is below the two-year prospect average, green is above and yellow is within the average.
While the typical prospect will see their route percentage chart skew more towards the slant, curl, post and nine route, those were the four patterns that Godwin ran at a below average rate. It’s unusual, but Godwin ran the corner (4.6 percent) and out (4.6 percent) routes at rates right in line with the two-year prospect average.
Godwin’s preferred routes were the dig (12.7 percent), comeback (13.3 percent) and flat (9.8 percent) as his usage rate was above the prospect average on those three routes. The dig and comeback are two patterns that take the most detail and technical prowess to run with precision Godwin is much farther along as a route-runner than most of his peers in this class.
While his route percentage chart skewed more toward outside routes than the typical prospect, his route success rate scores show a player who wins in all areas of the field.
The only routes in which Chris Godwin did not post an above average success rate vs. coverage score was the nine and “other.” Godwin’s straight-line speed may not be among the best in the class, and his 48 percent success rate vs. coverage was the fourth-lowest among prospects charted this year. His success rate on the “other” route of 70 percent was within the average. Otherwise, Godwin thrived on all routes.
Despite not running them as much as other prospects over the last two seasons, Godwin’s 86.4 percent success rate vs. coverage on slants and 84.6 percent on posts show off his quickness at the stem of routes. He’s also adept at using the subtle head fakes to take a defender outside in coverage before he breaks to the interior. Once in the open field on those routes, Godwin can be dangerous. Only 6.9 percent of his routes classified as “in space” attempts where he could break a tackle in the open field, but he was dropped on first contract on just 33.3 percent of those attempts.
As mentioned, the dig and comeback route were two patterns Godwin ran at a higher rate than the average prospect. Both difficult patterns to execute cleanly, his use there says a thing or two about his route-running. The fact that he posted success rates of 90.9 and 87 percent of them says even more. While Godwin’s trump card is his ability to win the ball in the air, don’t undersell his ability to separate from defenders and get open.
At just 21 years old, Chris Godwin already shows plenty of polish and seasoning for a young player who may have even more room to grow. He’s a player that comes with a complete skill set as a separator in addition to his work in the contested catch game with the best conversion rate in Reception Perception college history.
With the NFL Scouting Combine upon us, expect the buzz on Godwin to grow as he enters the national spotlight. While players like Cooper Kupp and Zay Jones appear to still be riding the hype of strong Senior Bowl weeks, it will soon be Godwin’s turn to displace them as one of the true sleepers of this draft class.
Much like now Super Bowl-winner Malcolm Mitchell from the 2016 class, Reception Perception identifies Chris Godwin as a player who will likely go outside of the first round but is destined to outperform his draft status. However, as long as Godwin continues to nail the pre-draft process, he could certainly end up working himself into the early Day 2 conversation. The results that lie in his Reception Perception metrics tell us that he is a player well worth that sort of investment.
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