TAMPA — The sleeper pick in the NFL draft for the Bucs this year may prove to be Penn State receiver Chris Godwin. Word of warning to the league's defensive backs: Don't rest on him.
DeSean Jackson has been electric. Mike Evans has lost a few pounds but still wins most routes. Adam Humphries is as reliable as the sunrise. But the pass catcher who has consistently made the most plays in the six full-squad workouts this offseason may be Godwin.
"The most consistent guy since we've been out here has been Godwin and Adam," coach Dirk Koetter said Thursday. "Those two guys have been making plays every day. I'm real happy with what Chris is doing. He can play (inside) or out, either one."
How the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Godwin lasted until the third round (No. 84 overall) is not clear. He was very productive in the past two seasons, catching 59 passes for 982 yards and scoring a career-high 11 touchdowns in 2016. He dominated this year's Rose Bowl in the Nittany Lions' 52-49 loss to Southern Cal with nine catches for 187 yards and two scores. He ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine.
"Man, Chris Godwin is amazing," Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston said. "He's an amazing young talent."
In Godwin he trusts.
Though four inches shorter than Evans, Godwin has many of his qualities. He has tremendously strong hands and is a natural pass catcher. He can contort his body. He may need a little runway but has the speed to blow past defensive backs.
"I definitely feel like I've been making progress. It's a lot to learn," Godwin said. "But the veteran guys, they've been doing a great job of helping out not only myself but the rest of the rookies kind of get acclimated. Just having their help and having their confidence in me has allowed me to come in and make plays and be comfortable doing what I do."
Though he has made correctable mental mistakes, Godwin has shown the NFL game is not too big to him.
Perhaps just as important, at 21, he is mature beyond his years. He has impressed coaches and members of the front office with his professionalism. He has been diligent in the classroom, and the preparation has helped him on the field.
Thursday, Godwin became the Bucs' last draft pick to sign by reaching a four-year deal. "It's definitely a nice day," he said. "It's feels good to finally make it official and just focus on football now."
Godwin's focus has been sharp from the outset. Unlike many players, who elect to wait until after the mandatory minicamp in June to make housing arrangements, Godwin lined up an apartment and moved his belongings to Tampa before the first rookie minicamp. His goal was to remove any distraction in his effort to win a job.
The biggest question surrounding Godwin is how does he get onto the field. Evans and Jackson are the starters. Humphries has a pretty good grip on his job as the slot receiver.
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But Jackson will be called on several times a game to run a go route and attempt to stretch the field. He isn't likely to play 60 snaps per game. He's going to need to come out of games.
Godwin's best position is lining up outside the numbers. But he also is learning the slot position.
Jackson is 30, and though he shows no signs of slowing, Godwin eventually will be the bookend receiver opposite Evans for years to come.
"I had some great coaches that have helped me develop, and I think a benefit of mine is I'm pretty good at taking coaching," Godwin said. "So I take what they give me and try to apply it to my game."
Koetter said Winston had his best offseason throwing day Thursday. Jackson did not practice. With Godwin, there wasn't much dropoff. That may be the best sign of all. Don't be surprised if Godwin forces his way onto the field often as a rookie.
"Wideouts are really the same as the O-line," Koetter said. "You're going to get the best guys out there, and you're going to move them around matchup-wise."