Former Penn State receiver Chris Godwin turned heads at the NFL combine over the weekend. His 4.42-second time in the 40-yard dash — for which he ran as fast as he could across a distance of arbitrary importance while not wearing a football uniform — was especially impressive to people who are impressed by such things. Or so I’m told.
Nittany Lions fans knew Godwin was pretty good before that, as evidenced by his two touchdowns and 187 receiving yards in the Rose Bowl, for which he did wear a football uniform.
And they weren’t shy about digging up this warm take from Matt Miller, NFL draft lead writer for Bleacher Report. It was Very Seriously twittered somewhere around halftime of Penn State’s Sept. 10 loss at Pittsburgh and Very Sarcastically retweeted dozens of times during Godwin’s big weekend at the combine.
If I'm a HS skill position player, I'm not committing to Penn State until James Franklin is gone.
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) September 10, 2016
Does Miller look like kind of an attention-seeking dipstick in light of the great things first-year coordinator Joe Moorhead’s offense did from that moment on in winning the Big Ten championship? Sure. Should someone whose title is “NFL draft lead writer for Bleacher Report” have recognized the development of a guy like Godwin? Probably!
At the same time, Nitters might want to pump the breaks on making Godwin the poster child for why high school receivers with an eye on the NFL should be beating down the doors of the Lasch Building to play for Penn State.
Godwin’s totals dropped to 59 receptions for 982 yards in 2016 from 69 catches and 1,101 yards in 2015. (Though his touchdown total surged from five to 11.) He was clearly talented and still Penn State’s best receiver, but his junior season at Penn State fell well short of what recent receiver star Allen Robinson produced in his third season — 97 receptions for 1,432 yards in 2013 before leaving for the NFL a year early. (He was drafted in the second round by the Jacksonville Jaguars the following spring.)
This is less a reflection on Godwin than it is on an offense that made a very clear choice to de-emphasize his role, despite his talent.
For one thing, quarterback Trace McSorley’s success in the passing game was built not by hitting his favorite, dangerous target over and over as his predecessor Christian Hacknberg did with Robinson, but by spreading the ball around, especially on the many long pass plays that Moorehead likes to call to soften up defenses. Godwin caught his share of deep balls, but unlike in 2014, so did tight end Mike Gesicki and receivers Saeed Blacknall, DeAndre Thompkins and DaeSean Hamilton.
This weighed on Godwin’s totals as it did on Hamilton’s, whose reception totals have fallen in each of the last three seasons, from 82 in 2014 to 34 in 2016.
Penn State’s focus on the ground game also contributed. The Nits ran the ball 540 times in 2016 compared to just 425 in 2015 under former coordinator John Donovan. That’s 115 snaps on which Godwin never even had a chance to get open and make a play that would impress scouts.
Basically, insofar as Penn State’s offense has a star, it’s not a wide receiver. Even a very good one with the tools necessary to be taken in the top half of the NFL draft.
McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley were always going to get the headlines because Moorhead’s system dictates that they’re the most important players on the field. Godwin was never going to be an especially dominant target because Moorhead’s system trades more on forcing defenses to break up a high volume of long pass attempts to different guys all over the field.
That’s fine if you’re a Penn State fan who wants to see his team put up all the points it can. And let’s be clear: Any success Godwin has in the draft process and at the next level will reflect well on Penn State’s development regimen.
Not all high school stars want to be developed at the next level, though. Some want to go to a place where they’re going to be the focus, and the Godwin hype train runs the risk of showing them that Penn State’s probably not the best place to go as long as Franklin is employing Moorhead and/or his methods.
Miller wasn’t trying to make a point with an ounce of that nuance. He was exaggerating two bad quarters of football after offensive struggles in 2014 and ’15 to get retweets at Franklin’s expense, and I understand the impulse from a fan perspective to now bask in the schadenfreude.
Maybe just wait until Barkley shows up in Indianapolis to impress the draft community, possibly as soon as next year. His story fits a lot more conveniently in the counternarrative than does Godwin’s.