Most NFL rookies experience regular ups and downs as they become acclimated to the NFL. Some shine early on, some need more time to make their marks but few make it through that first season without a stumble or two. Maybe just a bad day now and then.
The challenge, then: Find the bad for Chris Godwin since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made him the 84th overall pick in the draft in April.
Here, we'll help. Here's a collection of quotes from Head Coach Dirk Koetter when asked about the rookie receiver out of Penn State. They begin the weekend after the draft, when the Buccaneers were holding a rookies-only mini-camp.
May 6 (Rookie Camp): "Yeah, he's a good route runner. He can stay low to the ground, he keeps his pads down. He's smart, he's got a good look in his eye. He carries himself well, his body language. He's also a confident guy, a well-spoken guy. You could see why the coaches at Penn State said such good things about him."
May 23 (OTAs): "I thought Godwin had a really nice day today. I thought of the rookies, Justin Evans wasn't practicing today but I thought Godwin really showed up."
May 25 (OTAs): **"Chris is off to a fast start. Like I said the other day, Chris and O.J. [Howard] as we got – some of those other guys aren't practicing – but Chris and O.J. are both doing fine. O.J. has showed up probably a little bit more as a blocker than a receiver the first couple days. But Chris is – a couple small mental blips but the physical stuff is there, for sure."
June 1 (OTAs): "The most consistent [receivers] since we've been out here have been Godwin and Adam [Humphries]. Those two guys have been making plays every day. Real happy with what Chris is doing, but he could play in or out, either one."
June 14 (Full-Team Mini-Camp): "He does compete for the ball. And it's way, way, way too early to say this, but in that respect, Chris reminds me a little bit of Roddy White, in that respect. When I first went to Atlanta – and of course 'Smitty' [Mike Smith] had Roddy way before I did – he's similar size, a big guy that competes for the ball. Chris is off to a fast start. Let's temper it until we get the pads on, but he did it last year at Penn State and he's off to a good start here."
July 28 (First Practice of Training Camp): Yeah, he [showed up] in OTAs as well. Again, it's day one. Let's not set our course for the whole season based on an hour and a half in shorts."
July 29 (Training Camp): "DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin made some big plays. But it's day two, it's a process. We've just got to keep rolling along."
WATCH: HIGHLIGHTS FROM TRAINING CAMPAugust 3 (Training Camp): "Outstanding. He is doing a great job, the guy looks like a vet out there. Does not play like a rookie, does not act like a rookie. Very mature and serious about his business, serious about football. Doing a really nice job out there."
If anything, Koetter has lobbied against a rush to judgment about Godwin, even if it's a favorable judgment. That's understandable. The buzz around wide receivers in OTAs and training camp is unfailingly volatile, with different players catching the eyes of media and fans on different days. Among the receivers who have at some point been the center of attention in recent training camps are Kenny Bell, Jonathan Krause and Rannell Hall. None ever played for the Buccaneers.
Godwin may at some point run into rookie hurdles, but so far he has been consistently good, and remarkably consistent, as evidenced by Koetter's comments along the way. Koetter isn't specifically trying to tout one of his rookies; he has simply been asked about Godwin on frequent occasions, almost always after the rookie has had another strong practice. The coach has pumped the brakes just a bit occasionally on the Godwin talk, but very lightly, and if he offered up the Roddy White comparison with a "way-too-early" caveat, he still offered it up.
Pictures of fans at the Buccaneers' training camp practice on Friday.
Godwin, unsurprisingly, takes a more critical point of view about his own body of NFL work so far.
"Well, I think during each day I've done some good things, but I still think I have a very long way to go," said the young wideout. "There are mistakes that I want to get corrected. A lot of us players are our own harshest critics. I try to critique myself and hold myself to a higher standard. Even if I make the play, if I do something wrong during the play I want to correct it. I'm trying to do everything the best I can."
It's clearly meant to be one of his highest forms of praise when Koetter compares Godwin to a veteran player. Again, that's a nod to Godwin's impressive consistency. Rookies make a lot of mistakes as they learn; established veterans are established veterans because they have been able to eliminate most of their mistakes and give consistent performances. Godwin has apparently projected that same kind of image precisely because he acknowledges how much he still has to learn.
"Honestly I think it just comes with your mentality," he said. "When I was coming in here, my main goal was just to learn as much as possible and be a sponge to all the experience I have around me. Anytime I have any questions I'll ask the other receivers, I'll ask Jameis and the guys around me so that I can learn and be at the level they're at. I understand that I don't know everything."
Another thing Koetter said about Godwin in the spring, not included in the collection of quotes above, was that the third-rounder could potentially find a home at X, Z or in the slot: "When we drafted Chris, it was with the anticipation that he could play all three spots."
Given that the Buccaneers have an obvious starting duo on the outside in Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson and a productive returning slot receiver in Adam Humphries, Godwin may have fit in all of those spots to maximize his number of snaps as a rookie. As such, it's a good thing that he's one of the receivers working all over the formation so far in camp.
"We're all doing a bit of moving around," said Godwin. "I think in this offense you have to be well-versed in everything. You have to be ready to play where you're needed."
Whether or not Godwin does hit some bumps in the road along the way, he's already farther down that road than what could have been expected on draft weekend. His consistent, veteran-like day-to-day work has made him a very intriguing figure in the construction of the Bucs' 2017 offense. His role is probably not close to being well-defined, but it's looking more and more like it will be a role of some significance.