In a draft class absolutely loaded with highly-regarded wide receiver prospects, Penn State's K.J. Hamler is widely considered a potential Day Two pick next week. The last time an NFL team used a Day Two pick on a Penn State wide receiver, they ended up very, very happy with the results.
That player, of course, is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Chris Godwin, who broke out with his first Pro Bowl campaign in 2019, his third season after being drafted in the third round in 2017. Godwin finished second in the NFL in receiving yards per game last fall and has scored 17 touchdowns in his last 31 games overall. He and Mike Evans form what may be the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL.
Unsurprisingly, Godwin knows Hamler and thinks his fellow Nittany Lion can also make a big impact in the NFL. Coincidentally, it was Hamler that we projected to Tampa Bay in the third round of our seven-round all-Bucs mock draft last week, though that's obviously the prediction of one writer and not necessarily reflective of what General Manager Jason Licht and Head Coach Bruce Arians are thinking. Still, it seems clear that Godwin would welcome Hamler into the Buccaneer fold.
"I'm a really big fan of K.J.," said Godwin. "I have been since he got to Penn State. We've talked a handful of times. I think he has an incredible amount of talent. I think if he gets put on the right team, in the right system that could use him properly, I think he's going to be a really, really explosive player in this league, and not only as a receiver but as a return specialist. I think his potential is sky-high."
At 5-9 and 178 pounds, Hamler doesn't have the size of some other potential Day Two wideout picks like USC's Michael Pittman, Jr. or Notre Dame's Chase Claypool, but he's an explosive athlete with top-end speed and playmaking ability with the ball in his hands. He could become a big-time producer out of the slot in the NFL. Next week, Godwin will be waiting with interest to see where Hamler lands at the professional level.
And like everyone, including the very people who will be making the picks and the players selected themselves, Godwin will be watching a completely new sort of draft. General Managers will be working from home, mostly alone, and even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will be conducting the proceedings from his basement. There will be no walk across the stage and no hugs for this year's top picks, but there will still be a lot of happy new additions to the NFL.
"I don't think I'll be adjusted to watching that at all," said Godwin of what this year's viewing experience will be like. "I normally watch the draft; I've always loved doing it since I was kid. I think it's just something about watching people realize their dreams. That's something that's pretty exciting for me."
Of course, Hamler would surely love to be a first-round pick, like all the other prospects this year. Assuming that doesn't happen, his name could be called on Friday night, when the league conducts the second and third rounds. That's an experience with which Godwin is familiar; he was also part of what was considered a deep class of receivers in the 2017 draft. As it turned out, some of the 10 wideouts selected before him haven't panned out as well as their teams had hoped, at least not yet, while Godwin, the 84th overall pick, has thrived. So have fellow 2017 third-rounders Kenny Golladay and Cooper Kupp and late-second-rounder JuJu Smith-Schuster.
"My personal draft experience, it was interesting because obviously everybody expects or just hopes to go as high as possible," said Godwin. "So Day One was pretty interesting. As Day Two kind of progressed, I kind of felt like I could go anywhere on Day Two, so it really became like a waiting game. At times it was a little bit frustrating, but at the end of the day I realized that I was going to be exactly where I was supposed to be.
"And all I ever asked for was an opportunity. I knew that once I got wherever I was going to be, I was confident in myself and my ability and my work ethic that I was going to make a splash in some way, in some fashion and I would kind of work my way up the ladder."
Godwin has backed up that confidence, becoming the type of player that teams prioritize locking in to a second contract. He is headed into the final season of his initial four-year deal and, indeed, Licht and Arians have identified retaining Godwin as a priority. That doesn't mean that a deal has to get done this spring; when second-round star Lavonte David was in a similar position in 2015, he inked his second deal in the middle of training camp.
"There haven't been many conversations thus far, but honestly I'm not too worried about it," said Godwin. "They've come by and they've mentioned that [he is a priority], they've mentioned that to me, and I don't doubt that at all. I'm very confident in where I am right now. I think the biggest thing for me is coming out and continuing to prove that I can be an elite player in this league, and just being the guy that I've always been. I've always prided myself on being a good teammate, being a hard worker, and those things won't change. So if we're able to get something done this offseason or this season, then that would be awesome."