It would be hard for Penn State WR Chris Godwin to have a better job interview for NFL teams that what he did against the Southern Cal secondary in the Rose Bowl.
Three days after Godwin lit up the Trojans, including future first-round pick Adoree’ Jackson, for 9 catches, 187 yards and 2 touchdowns, he announced Thursday he’ll skip his senior season and enter the 2017 NFL Draft. He made some incredible catches, and consistently found ways to get open against an extremely talented group of defensive backs.
Now Penn State will be in search of a No. 1 receiving target for QB Trace McSorley in 2017. Assuming no one else leaves, the Nittany Lions will still return nine starters, but losing Godwin will sting. He would have become the school’s all-time leading receiver had he stayed.
Who will surface as Penn State’s top pass catcher next season? Here are five possibilities:
Redshirt sophomore Irvin Charles
James Franklin said Charles is one of the most talented wide receiver prospects he has ever seen. DaeSean Hamilton, who might set the school record for receptions now that Godwin is gone, said a few days before the Rose Bowl that Charles is the most talented wideout on the roster.
He also made one of the biggest plays of the season, an 80-yard touchdown that helped kick-start a comeback against Minnesota and ignite a 9-game winning streak. He is listed at 6 feet 4, 219 pounds and flashed that breakaway speed against the Golden Gophers.
Yes, there has been a lot of hype about Charles. Yes, he appears to have tons of potential. He also has 2 catches in his college career. Thinking he might step in and play like Godwin early in 2017 might be a stretch, but thinking he might ascend to that role as the season progresses might not be that crazy.
Senior Saeed Blacknall
Blacknall has been a deep threat for Penn State in each of the past two seasons. He has 23 catches for 595 yards and 4 touchdowns in that span, and his skills seem a perfect fit for Joe Moorhead’s downfield-friendly passing attack.
Could Blacknall become a dependable target as Godwin became? His has plenty of speed, but would need to prove he can be reliable on short and intermediate routes to go along with all of those fun deep balls.
Senior DaeSean Hamilton
Hamilton was Penn State’s No. 1 wideout as a freshman, but the offense was a lot different back then. Godwin became the top target last season, and then the shift to more downfield throws as the 2016 season progressed left fewer opportunities for Hamilton.
After 82 catches in 2014, his production slipped to 45 receptions last season and 34 this season. He did have 8 catches for 118 yards against Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, including a couple of great grabs downfield.
If Hamilton stays (he has graduated and could transfer if he wants), it’s possible that Penn State gives him a chance to operate outside in Moorhead’s three-wideout system during the spring instead of being a staple in the slot, which tends to lead to a lot of short catches.
Redshirt sophomore Juwan Johnson
Like Charles, Johnson has earned plenty of praise while waiting his turn in Happy Valley. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds, he has a lot of the same skills as Charles.
Johnson also had just 2 catches this season, one for 27 yards during a furious comeback attempt against Pitt and another for 43 yards during the rout of Michigan State in the regular-season finale.
Senior TE Mike Gesicki
Could a team that deploys three wide receivers on nearly every play have a tight end be its top target? Sure, and Gesicki has the skills to do it.
Gesicki had 24 catches total in his first two seasons at Penn State, but Moorhead’s arrival turned him from afterthought to star in the new-look offense. This season, finished with 48 catches and 5 touchdowns. He made several fantastic catches, including another highlight-reel touchdown against USC in the Rose Bowl.
It’s possible that the group of wide receivers on the roster in 2017 collectively try to replace Godwin, with no one in particular becoming the go-to guy. That could open the door for Gesicki to be that guy.
There will be other options at wideout, as well. DeAndre Thompkins had a solid season (27 catches, 440 yards, 1 TD), earning starts when Blacknall wasn’t available. Brandon Polk missed much of the season because of an injury, but made some explosive plays in 2015. Maybe Godwin’s departure opens a spot in the rotation for a true freshman like 2017 commit K.J. Hamler, a 4-star prospect from powerhouse IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.