Chris Godwin sustained a significant knee injury in a game against the New Orleans Saints on December 19, 2021 and underwent surgery to repair torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments 15 days later. It was considered fairly remarkable that he was in the starting lineup nine months later when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened their 2022 season in Dallas. Perhaps even more remarkably, after an early hiccup with a hamstring injury cost him several games he still nearly broke the Buccaneers' single-season record with 104 receptions, ranking fourth in the league in catches per game.
Yet this was definitely not Godwin's best NFL season. He averaged a career-low 9.8 yards per catch, scored only three touchdowns and saw his yards per game fall by more than 10 from the year before. Statistically, Godwin's best season so far was 2019, when he racked up career highs in yards (1,333), touchdowns (9) and yards per catch (15.5), and sure enough that resulted in his only Pro Bowl invitation so far. The 2023 season was not the peak Chris Godwin season because he was not yet back to peak Chris Godwin form.
That Chris Godwin will likely be back in 2023 because he's already feeling like he's closing in on that pre-injury form.
"I think I'm very close to it," said on Tuesday after the Buccaneers' first voluntary OTA practice. "I feel like a lot of my explosion is coming back. I feel very comfortable with the things that I'm working on. It feels really good to be able to have the opportunity to work on my skill development this offseason, as opposed to just working to rehab an injury."
Godwin has been lauded for his professional and his dedication to his craft and his body since early in his rookie season. Last offseason, however, he had to direct that hard work at a long rehab process, which kept him out of most of the team's other activities. On Tuesday, he said it was "a night and day difference" between last year's offseason experience and the one he's very eagerly taking part in this year.
"All this time last year, I was inside doing rehab on my own," said Godwin. "Those were very long days and you kind of watch out the window. It's like you're a kid that got in trouble and youre watching all your friends outside, playing and having fun. To be out here now, it's a blessing. It was a lot of hard work. I'm feeling really good. I feel really good with where I'm at. It's a fresh year [with] fresh opportunities for myself and all the guys around."
A handful of veteran Buccaneers are pursuing their own offseason regimens away from the team, as they are free to do, but Godwin felt the need to start working with new Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales and his playbook as soon as possible, so that he wouldn't have to have a cram session when training camp arrived. He also knows that he is preparing for a revamped role in Canales's scheme after spending roughly 60% of his snaps in the slot over the past three seasons. Canales plans to use Godwin outside more often to take advantage of the route-running, explosiveness and speed he displayed while averaging 15.1 yards per catch over his first three NFL seasons.
"It's just a different challenge for me, which is how I've looked at it the last…really, since we started," said Godwin. "It's an exciting task for me because it's a different perspective. That's not to say that I didn't play outside in … the previous offense. Most of the years I was kind of 50-50. It's a different vantage point, but it also gives me an opportunity to work on some different things. So I'm excited about it. I'm excited to really get to work a lot on my releases. I'm excited to get to work on the field. I'm excited to be a mentor to a lot of the younger guys, which is weird role for me right now."
View some of the top photos from Day 1 of the Buccaneers OTAs at the AdventHealth Training Center.