Chris Godwin appeared to use the turf as a trampoline last October, leaping for a Trace McSorley pass and coming back to the ball with his arms outstretched — using his 6-foot-1 frame to box the Ohio State defender out of the play.
That 20-yard touchdown reception at the end of the first half helped turn the tide in Penn State’s upset win over the Buckeyes — and it epitomizes what NFL clubs find so enticing about Godwin.
The junior, who’ll take part in position drills at Penn State’s Pro Day on Thursday, is a projected second-round pick for several reasons: his impressive showing at the Combine, stellar Rose Bowl game — and, maybe most of all, his ability to haul in contested catches.
NFL.com’s Matt Harmon pegs Godwin as the best receiver in the last two drafts at catching balls in traffic.
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“I definitely feel that’s one of the best parts of my game,” Godwin said. “Not everything’s going to be perfect, and it’s rare that you’ll be wide open. To be able to make contested catches, it’s an important trait as a receiver, so I take a lot of pride in that.”
Godwin, who tallied 59 catches for 982 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, made a living on being a defensive back’s jump-ball nightmare. Of his 11 scores, six were contested catches, with at least one defender in close quarters.
Two came in Penn State’s 52-49 loss to Southern California in the Rose Bowl. Godwin beat Iman Marshall and All-American Adoree Jackson for 72 and 30-yard touchdowns, respectively.
That game was the first and only time Harmon saw Godwin perform live — and he knew he had to dig deeper.
“That’s hands-down the best game I’ve charted all year,” Harmon said.
Three years ago, Harmon created an analytical methodology specific to wideouts called “Reception Perception,” a way to measure the effectiveness of pass-catches. He charted every route in a six-game sample size and quantified route percentage, target data, alignment data, success rate vs. coverage and, most importantly in Godwin’s case, contested catch conversion rate.
In the six games Harmon charted — USC, Pittsburgh, Temple, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin — the former Penn State wideout logged an 85.7 contested catch conversion rate, the best of any wide receiver prospect in the last two draft classes.
Yes, better than projected first-round picks Mike Williams (Clemson) and Corey Davis (Western Michigan).
“With receiver analysis, there’s an inherent bias that bigger receivers don’t separate really well,” Harmon noted. “But the fact that he is so well-adjusted to that was the most impressive thing to me.”
Josh Liskiewitz of Pro Football Focus agreed.
Liskiewitz, who worked for an ex-scout breaking down draft talent for six years before joining PFF in 2015, said Godwin’s knack for bringing down catches in traffic is almost refreshing.
Because this class is full of smaller, shiftier receivers — Washington’s John Ross taking safeties deep and Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel devastating defenses with screens — ballhawks like Godwin are almost as rare as a successful Cleveland Brown quarterback.
“Not too many guys outside of Williams and Davis, the two guys at the top, that can really just go up and get the ball,” Liskiewitz said. “Just go and say, ‘It’s my ball. I’m going to get it.’ Godwin’s the next in-line for that, and I think he’ll be a beneficiary from that.”
Liskiewitz said he could see a team like the Cincinnati Bengals, who have A.J. Green but need a complementary outside option, going after Godwin.
It was also reported Tuesday that Cincinnati’s AFC North foe in Pittsburgh will host Godwin before the NFL Draft.
Expect more reports of teams that want a piece of the former Nittany Lion, too. Those clubs want to see him reel in touchdown passes over NFL cornerbacks’ heads and jump for some critical third-down catches.
“So much of it is about leaping ability, leaving your feet, being comfortable in tight coverage. So much of it is hard to quantify because it’s a lot of intangibles,” Harmon said. “It’s about being consistent, and that’s something he displays.”
And the scary thing is, Godwin believes he can improve in the area.
“It’s still something I keep working on,” Godwin said. “It’s something that I want to continue to grow on.”
Have fun, NFL cornerbacks.