The weeks before training camp are an optimistic time around the NFL. Just about every fanbase around the league has reason to believe that the upcoming season will be better than the last…or just as good if you're the defending champion. Every team has made some sort of key addition, whether it be through free agency, the draft or both. Every second-year player is "ready to make the leap."
Some teams, like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have even made franchise-altering moves, such as hiring a new head coach. That's usually one of the main sources of fresh optimism around the league, and it's easy to understand why the Buccaneers are excited to see where Bruce Arians can lead them. That optimism obviously can't be rewarded in every NFL city every year, but there's no harm in being excited at this time of the year.
But let's be real. Not everything is going to go as planned, even for a winning team. A key contributor could get hurt. Some of those second-year players won't make that leap. The new reviewable pass interference rule could rear its ugly head at an inopportune time. Heck, it seems impossible, but an important field goal might hit an upright and then the crossbar and bounce out.
The Buccaneers head into the 2019 with high hopes as a team overall, and for some of their individual players as well. There are some individual milestones that can very reasonably be expected to be met, but some will be and some won't. As it turns out, staff writer Carmen Vitali and I disagree on the likelihood of some of those milestones occurring, and that is our topic of discussion for the week. With training camp just around the corner, the two of us are going to look at five potential milestones for this season and argue why they will or won't happen.
For each of the questions below, Carmen and I are going to say yes or no. We'll find out later this year who was right and who was wrong.
Monday: Will Chris Godwin eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark in 2019?
Tuesday: Will the Buccaneers record their first kickoff/punt return touchdown in nine years?
Wednesday: Will Jameis Winston throw 30 or more touchdown passes in his fifth NFL campaign?
Thursday: Will at least two Buccaneer defenders make the Pro Bowl in 2019?
Friday: Will any Buccaneer defender get 10 or more sacks this season?
View the top photos of Chris Godwin from this past offseason.
Yes or no: Will Chris Godwin eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark in 2019?
Carmen Vitali: Yes
It's a lofty goal. Let me repeat: a third-year receiver who shares a roster with wide receiver Mike Evans also eclipsing 1,000 yards is a lofty goal. Not to mention, there's the Bucs' wealth in the tight end room with not one but two tremendously productive pass-catching tight ends to reckon with, as well.
But since when has Bruce Arians ever shied away from 'lofty'?
The Buccaneers' new head coach doubled down on predicting a 100-catch season for wide receiver Chris Godwin as recently as mini-camp. If he indeed reaches that mark (which yes, is an 'if'), that would mean just a 10.0 yard-per-reception average, a mark Godwin himself easily surpassed last season with 14.3 yards per catch. He caught 59 of those passes, giving him 842 yards on the year with just five of 16 games started. He was targeted 95 times – and that was with not only Evans on the roster, but DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries too. The latter two have since departed and with them, the significance of those 158 extra yards.
If we go with Godwin's catch percentage from last year – 62.1% – to get to 1,000 yards, that works out to needing 113 targets doing the math. Of course, there's only one ball and wide receiver Mike Evans had 138 targets last year with 86 catches and a whopping career-high 1,524 yards receiving. So you're wondering if there are enough of those targets to go around now, aren't you?
It wouldn't do much good to go off last year's numbers given the new coaching staff and entirely new offensive system. The Bucs attempted 619 passes last year, if you were curious. But let's take a look at what Arians himself has done in the past, instead. In 2013, his first year as head coach with the Arizona Cardinals, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald had 134 targets and wide receiver Michael Floyd had 112 targets. Um. In case you need me to make the connection for you, 113 is only one off from 112 and 138 is only four off from 134. That stat line is eerily similar, wouldn't you say? Now, in 2013 only Floyd had over 1,000 yards with 1,041 and Fitzgerald came extremely close with 954. That's very close to having two 1,000-yard receivers, but close gets no cigar and I'm not done.
Just two years later in 2015, the Cardinals' offense did have two 1,000-yard receivers. This time, it was Fitzgerald with 1,215 yards and John Brown with 1,003 yards while the Cardinals' offense attempted 550 total passes that year. Arians has even gone so far as to compare Godwin's role to that of Fitzgerald's once he moved to the slot this offseason, so I'm going to go ahead and connect the dots there. With Godwin's slot and outside capabilities, he really doesn't have to come off the field and one glance at his Instagram feed will tell you he's more than physically capable of handling the work load. Not to mention, back up to where I said Evans had 1,524 yards on 86 receptions. Just 86 receptions. I wrote about how impressive that is among his division peers last week, if you need a point of reference.
The Bucs did acquire wide receiver Breshad Perriman in free agency, thought to be able to provide the deep threat with his 4.2 speed. The combination of sophomore receiver Justin Watson and sixth-round draft pick Scotty Miller could tandem to definitely steal some of those targets, but you have to think Evans and Godwin are WR1 and WR2 by a large margin.
I know, I know, I can't put a bow on that just yet without talking about two receivers not in the wideout room: tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. That's totally fair because the Bucs really don't have a choice other than to utilize the tight end talent Jason Licht and Co. have graced them with. Eleven of the Bucs' 29 touchdowns came by the hands of tight ends last season, in fact. That's 38% of the total. While I would love to see Godwin nab nine or 10 touchdowns, that's where this whole 'there's only one ball' argument really comes in. Fortunately for this argument though, we're talking yards and the thing about those 11 touchdowns by Howard and Brate is that most came inside the red zone. Brate led the team with six receiving touchdowns and only had 289 yards because most of those scores came with the Bucs already inside the 20-yard line. If you want to go off work, he was targeted just 49 times and caught 30 passes. That's hardly enough to prevent two 1,000-yard receivers. Plus, knowing Evans can crush the 1,000-yard mark on only 86 receptions really makes me optimistic that not only can Godwin get to 1,000 yards too – he may also get to 100 catches.
What say you, Scott Smith?
Scott Smith: No
Listen, there aren't many bigger Chris Godwin fans around here than me. Okay, Bruce Arians thinks Godwin is a 100-catch guy, so he's probably a bigger fan, but I'm not far behind. My point is, I don't mean any disrespect when I take the negative side of this debate. In fact, I don't even mean to be negative.
My argument against Godwin getting to 1,000 yards this year is based simply on the number of footballs that are involved in each play. Through my many years of watching the NFL, I've learned that this number never deviates from one. That one football can only go to one ballcarrier or pass-catcher. Last year, that football was thrown in Godwin's direction 95 times. That's 95 out of the 1,055 times that Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick tried to distribute said football (625 passes, 389 handoffs, 41 times the ball was kept on a sack).
That means almost exactly nine percent of the offense ran through Godwin, and he used those opportunities to generate a very impressive 842 yards. His 14.3 yards per catch on 59 grabs was quite good and probably not fluky; he had a 15.4-yard average as a rookie, albeit on 25 fewer receptions. So if we figure he can duplicate that 14.3-yard average in 2019, he will need to catch 70 passes to get to 1,000 yards.
You know what, that sounds kind of reasonable. That's just 11 more than last year. Man, I might be convincing myself to come over to Carmen's side on this.
But not quite. Godwin's catch rate (receptions divided by targets) held almost exactly steady from his rookie year (61.8%) to his second season (62.1%). So let's say he catches 62% of the passes thrown his way this year. That means he will need the ball thrown his way 113 times, as Carmen said. Last year's offensive play total was a bit high, the third-highest in team history. Over the last 10 years, the Buccaneers have averaged 998 offensive plays per season, so let's go with an even 1,000 plays as our target for next year. That also happens to make the math easy; Godwin's targets would now need to account for 11.3% of the offense in 2019.
That's a bigger jump than it seems. Mike Evans is the Bucs' clear number-one target in the passing game, and his 2018 season was definitely better than his 2017 campaign, but he had only two more targets last year than the year before. To put it another way, Evans had 13.0% of the offense run through him as a rookie in 2014; four years later, he had 13.0% of the offense going through him.
I understand why people believe Godwin will have a significantly larger share of the offense in 2019, and honestly, I hope they're right. Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson are gone, taking with them 179 targets. Who better to soak those up?
Well, the Bucs may not have anyone better than Godwin in that regard, but they have a lot of other, very good options. Breshad Perriman should be able to replace a lot of Jackson's 41 catches. Scotty Miller could become a real weapon in the slot. Justin Watson could, you know, make the leap in his second season. But more so than any of that, I think the tight ends and running backs are going to see a bigger part of the passing game in 2019. Give O.J. Howard 16 games for once and let Cam Brate return to top form with his hip now feeling good, and those guys are almost certain to produce more than 64 combined catches. As for the running backs, I'm banking on Arians making a point of having more passes thrown their way.
Yes, Godwin will see time in the slot, too, and yes he's going to be on the field more than last year. That said, he already had the third-most snaps of any Buccaneer receiver last year, and he wasn't far behind Humphries, who had the second-most. If Godwin assumes Humphries' usage level, we're only talking about 64 more snaps.
Barring injury, Mike Evans is likely to eclipse 1,000 yards, as he has every season in his career. Last year he had a career-high with 1,524 yards, so I think something like 1,300 to 1,400 yards is actually a more reasonable expectation. Only one time in team history have the Buccaneers had two 1,000-yard receivers in the same season, which happened to be Evans' rookie year. He had a team-high 1,051 and Vincent Jackson just made it with 1,002.
So, a 1,300 to 1,400-yard guy and another 1,000-yard receiver? And two tight ends getting a lot of attention? And more receiving work for the running backs? Chris Godwin is a great and ascending player and I truly hope he gets to 1,000 yards this year. It certainly wouldn't be a shock. But I think he's going to end up just a little short.