Super Bowl: Chris Godwin finding next gear could hold key for Buccaneers


Chris Godwin could play a pivotal role in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers upsetting the defending Champion Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV Sunday night.

Chris Godwin was born for moments like this.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ star wide receiver has been instrumental in his team reaching Super Bowl LV, and seems to save his biggest performances for the games played under the brightest lights.

“Chris really is a throwback,” Godwin’s college head coach, Penn State’s James Franklin tells FanSided. “He’s a coach’s dream because he’s high production and low maintenance. He’s a quarterback’s best friend because he’s all substance and no flash.”

Not long before he was chosen in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Godwin announced his presence to the world in the Nittany Lions‘ 52-49 loss to USC in the 2017 Rose Bowl, catching nine passes for a game-high 187 yards and two touchdowns.

Much of Godwin’s breakout performance came against USC cornerback, and the eventual No. 18 overall pick in the NFL Draft, Adoree’ Jackson.

“That Rose Bowl game is what got him drafted as high as he did to start his career,” a league source tells FanSided.

Franklin recalls Godwin’s impact on his program as much more than a player capable of filling up a stat sheet.

“He’s so mature, so consistent, and so dependable,” Franklin says.

As it turns out, that Rose Bowl was more of a launching pad for Godwin, rather than simply the apex of a productive college career.

Ahead of the biggest game of Godwin’s life, which just so happens to come weeks before he potentially has the chance to hit free agency for the first time in his career, FanSided spoke to those who know Godwin best to set the expectation for his role in Super Bowl LV against the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs and set the stage for what Sunday night’s contest might mean for his market value if 31 other teams have the chance to bid on his services.

“If anyone can shift to that next gear, it’s Chris,” Oregon Ducks offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, who was Godwin’s offensive coordinator at Penn State, tells FanSided. “You saw it in that Rose Bowl game. He went for over 100 yards in the NFC Championship Game. He has shown the ability to rise to the occasion and play great in big games.”

Much of what made Godwin a productive college receiver has propelled him to becoming one of the more daunting matchups for cornerbacks across the NFL.

“He’s tough,” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians tells FanSided. “He blocks well, and he goes over the middle.”

Chris Godwin, Penn State Football
Wide receiver Chris Godwin #12 of the Penn State Nittany Lions(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) /

Along with Mike Evans, Godwin has formed half of one of the NFL’s most prolific wide receiver duos. Through his first 58 games, Godwin has caught 244 passes for 3,540 yards and 24 touchdowns.

“When you have a great coach like Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich dialing it up,” Moorhead said. “Good things are going to happen. Chris has done this his entire career, and I’m just thrilled and excited to watch him in this game.”

Chris Godwin’s connection with Tom Brady has been a special weapon

As Pro Football Focus points out, Tom Brady produced a 131.9 passer rating when targeting Godwin his season, and Godwin was only charged with two drops during the regular season.

Beyond his prolific numbers, it’s not difficult to see what makes Godwin special.

“He’s a very refined route-runner,” Moorhead pointed out. “He’s able to make contested catches in traffic look routine. He’s also got an incredibly wide catch radius and deceptive speed.”

One of the most reliable receivers when it comes to pulling down contested passes, it’s no wonder that Godwin has accounted for 43 first downs this season and caught 78.3 percent of his targets.

“He’s got incredibly strong hands,” Moorhead said. “We always said ‘there’s no such thing as a 50/50 ball, it’s a 100/0 ball.’ A lot of our stuff was designed to attack one-on-one matchups, and anytime we were able to identify Chris was single-covered, we were going to do our best to give him the chance to go get the ball, and he made the most of those.”

Godwin’s ability to capitalize on one-on-one coverage translated from Happy Valley to the NFL, even in a year where he was rarely 100-percent healthy.

Despite suffering a concussion back in September, and missing one game after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured finger, Godwin still caught 65 passes for 840 yards and seven touchdowns this season.

Turns out, Godwin was just getting started.

Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin (Image via Wilmington News Journal) /

Entering Super Sunday, Godwin is the NFL’s third-leading receiver this postseason, catching 14 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown in the Buccaneers’ three playoff games.

Godwin was instrumental in the Buccaneers getting past the Packers two weeks ago, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the 24-year-old become a focal point in Arians and Leftwich’s game plan against the Chiefs.

While Kansas City’s prolific quick-strike offense is loaded with talent, Steve Spagnuolo’s defense has playmakers at all three levels. Chris Jones and Frank Clark are All-Pro caliber defensive linemen capable of collapsing the pocket with ease. L’Jarius Snead is quickly developing into a top cornerback. Then there’s Tyrann Mathieu, who can be weaponized as a blitzer, in the slot, or center field in deep coverage.

If the Buccaneers are going to have success on offense, creating deception with route concepts in the passing game, and finding ways to involve their speedy offensive weapons on the ground to play ball control and keep Patrick Mahomes and Co. off the field might be Tampa Bay’s best chance of pulling off a Super Bowl upset in its home stadium.

“Godwin working option stuff inside could be a good mismatch for the Buccaneers to create against the Chiefs’ linebackers,” an AFC play-caller recently told FanSided.

Beyond his role in the Buccaneers’ quest to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy aloft, Godwin also potentially has the chance to further take control of the trajectory of his career as free agency rapidly approaches next month.

Godwin is set to be a free agent for the first time when the new league year begins. There’s little doubt that if Godwin has the kind of performance against the Chiefs that he managed against the Packers two weeks ago, and USC three years ago, his status as the best available wide receiver won’t only be cemented but he might have the chance to become the highest-paid player ever at the position.

“I heard some rumors about him possibly getting the franchise tag,” one prominent agent familiar with the wide receiver market tells FanSided. “But, if he doesn’t get tagged, people will pay and he might even get overpaid based off his first three seasons.”

Tagging Godwin could be problematic for the Buccaneers, who enter the offseason projected to be $38 million under the salary cap, but also must weigh between paying Godwin the average of the top-five wide receivers in the league and using the same tag to retain game-wrecking linebacker Shaq Barrett.

“Depending on the wide receiver market, he will be a tier-one free agent,” an NFC personnel executive tells FanSided on the condition of anonymity, to speak freely about Godwin’s situation. “He’ll get some cash, but he’s probably in the middle of that top tier rather than the guy at the position. I do know, as long as it’s not a bidding war, Tampa definitely wants him back.”

A second agent tells FanSided he estimates Godwin could command $14 million per year.

First things first, Godwin has one more game to play, the biggest game of his life, against a defense where points could be at a premium.

There has been a history of impending free agents juicing their market value in the Super Bowl. Dallas Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown intercepted Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Neil O’Donnell twice in Super Bowl XXX prior to signing a five-year deal worth $12.5 million and $3.5 million guaranteed with the Oakland Raiders that offseason before slinking into relative obscurity.

The executive doesn’t believe Godwin necessarily needs to shine in the Super Bowl to land a lucrative contract of his own.

“He doesn’t need a ‘big game,’ so to speak,” the executive said. “But a consistent game with his hands. He is a good player that has talent and size, but who is also a great teammate.”

In the Super Bowl, every target matters more, but so too do the little things that won’t show up in the box score. In addition to hauling in contested passes or breaking open to make an easy target for Brady, Godwin also makes a point to give his best effort in aspects of the game that perhaps only coaches notice when disecting the film.

“He’s always unselfish about the ball,” Moorhead says. “It was a four-vertical concept against a two-high shell, and Chris had to really get his depth to pull that safety in, which allowed Scotty Miller to get outside of that crowded corner. That’s another thing that stands out about Chris, even when he knows he might not get the ball, he still did whatever he needed to do to pull his guy off the hash mark.”

Now, Godwin’s future and the Buccaneers’ championship hopes just might hinge on him shifting into that next gear one more time.

“You always knew he was special all along,” Moorhead said. “In the biggest games, under the brightest lights, against great competition, he always played his best games.”

Matt Lombardo is the site expert for GMenHQ, and writes Between The Hash Marks each Wednesday for FanSided. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattLombardoNFL.