When Chris Godwin was forced to injured reserve last December due to a knee injury in Week 15, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers knew it would be a difficult loss to overcome. Then-Head Coach Bruce Arians said that Godwin was a "focal point" of the offense and quarterback Tom Brady said there was "no way to replace him." Over the last few seasons, various coaches have glowingly spoken of Godwin's essential role in the offense, pointing to his run-blocking contributions, his work out of the slot and his production after the catch, among other things.
Godwin had surgery in December to repair a torn ACL and other damage, then surprised almost everyone by being ready to play in Week One. Though he had a minor hiccup with a hamstring strain that forced him to miss the next two games, he returned in Week Four and has since seen his usage rate rise to a season-high 96% (66 of 69 offensive snaps) in the Buccaneers' Week 12 loss at Cleveland. Godwin is back to being the player the coaches can't afford to take off the field in almost any situation.
If there is any remaining limitation by Godwin's surgically-repaired knee, it didn't show in Cleveland. Thanks to the overtime period that was needed to decide the outcome, the sixth-year receiver covered a total of 1160.6 yards on those 69 snaps, according to NFL Next Gen Stats (NGS). Of those 1160.6 yards, 526.61 came with him at a run (defined as 6.6 to 12 miles per hour) and 410.95 came at a sprint (more than 12 miles per hour). That total of 937.56 yards of either running or sprinting is also the most work Godwin has done in any game this season.
And these weren't empty yards. Godwin led all players on both teams in targets (13), receptions (12) and receiving yards (110), and he scored the Buccaneers' first touchdown of the game on the opening drive. When Tom Brady threw the ball in Godwin's direction he produced a passer rating of 127.6. On his other 30 passes on the day, Brady had a passer rating of 79.3.
Obviously, Brady's passes in his direction were sharp, but Godwin helped his quarterback out a little bit. According to NGS, Brady had an expected completion rate on those 13 passes of 73.1% but Godwin actually caught 92.3% of them. That's a Completion Rate Over Expected (CROE) of +19.2%, which is Godwin's second-best rate in any game this season. He had a CROE of +20.7% in Dallas in Week One, but that was on just three targets.
The particularly impressive part of Godwin's catch rate in Cleveland was that it wasn't inflated by a high number of very short passes, like the tunnel screens on which he was so effective in 2020 and 2021. He actually had an average route depth of 10.3 yards in the game, his highest figure in any game this season. In contrast, his average route depth in the aforementioned Dallas game was just 3.4 yards, and his average on all targets this year is 8.6. It all added up to a total of 4.6 expected points added (EPA) and a mark of 0.37 EPA per target. That EPA total is his third highest in any game this season.
Godwin used his sharp route-running to create an average of 3.1 yards of separation from the nearest defender at the time of the ball's arrival. He was considered "open" on 54% of his targets, his third-highest mark this season, but was only "wide open" on eight percent of them. He was targeted on 13 of his 44 routes run, a 30% target rate that is his second-highest single-game rate of this season. Godwin also did better than expected after getting the ball in his hands, with 50 yards after the catch when he was only expected to produce 39. That YAC over expected of 11 was his second-highest total in any 2022 game so far.
Put it all together and you get a picture of the Chris Godwin who was so indispensable to the Buccaneers' offense over the previous two seasons. Godwin surprised everyone by getting back on the field in Week One, but now it seems apparent that he is truly all the way back.