The iconic bronze statue of a horse-mounted George Washington, with his back to the 2017 NFL draft stage, continuously changed colors: When it was the Eagles’ turn to select, a spotlight blanketed Washington in green. Pittsburgh’s pick turned Washington yellow, and so on.
Nineteen selections rolled by in Friday’s third round before Tampa Bay was on the clock. The president’s statue was then covered in red, when former Buccaneers linebacker Ryan Nece walked up to the podium.
“With the 84th pick in the 2017 NFL draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select, Chris Godwin, wide receiver, Penn State.”
With that, the Nittany Lions’ prolific pass-catcher found a new home — and Bucs fans couldn’t be happier.
“I knew who Chris Godwin was,” said a smiling Matthew Pullman, a 22-year-old Bucs fan, who was on-hand for the NFL draft. “I didn’t think he’d be there. But, hey, I’ll take him.”
Godwin, fresh off a 982-yard, 11-touchdown junior season in Happy Valley, tumbled down the draft board to the 20th pick of the third round. He was surprisingly the 11th wideout selected.
Regardless of draft position, though, Godwin is set to join an opportunistic situation. Budding quarterback Jameis Winston and a couple of standout receivers in Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson lead the way for Tampa Bay, which had the 16th-best passing offense in the NFL last season.
Godwin’s addition should improve that significantly — at least, Bucs fans believe so.
“I think we needed a No. 3, a guy with speed,” 22-year-old Bucs fan Derek Lang said of Godwin, who posted a 4.42 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in March. “I’m happy with it.”
Leaning up against the metal fence separating the theater from the fan zone, Lang fist-pumped after Godwin’s selection. Pullman, decked out with an all-black Florida State jersey with Winston’s name on the back, watched Godwin put up 187 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the Rose Bowl.
“I like his speed; I like the way he broke it loose,” Pullman said, referring to his postseason performance against USC. “I really liked his footwork, getting in and out of routes and getting up the field. I’m very excited.”
Bucs fans weren’t the only ones pleased, either. Godwin’s selection evoked a smattering of “We Are” chants from those in Eagles, Ravens and Giants jerseys.
Chris Mercurio, 27, was in the thick of the Penn State fans. Problem is, he’s a Michigan fan.
“I hate Penn State,” Mercurio said. “Go Blue.”
Still, Mercurio, donning a bright red Kwon Alexander jersey, is a Tampa Bay supporter.
He watched Godwin and the Nittany Lions win the Big Ten title and saw Godwin cruise through the Southern California secondary on Jan. 2. At the time, Mercurio was gritting his teeth. Now, he’s glad to have Godwin.
“I didn’t even know he was still available,” the Millersburg native said. “I erupted when they picked him. I went ballistic.”
And Mercurio hopes to watch Godwin for years to come.
The 6-foot-1 wideout, who grabbed 85.7 percent of contested catches in a six-game span per NFL.com’s Matt Harmon, is a talented player with plenty of upside.
The Delaware native was passed on by the Eagles, Ravens, Redskins and 28 other teams.
But Tampa Bay snagged the vertical threat late — and it might pay off.
“DeSean down the field, Mike Evans up and down the sideline, O.J. Howard over the middle, and now we have Chris Godwin,” Pullman said, shaking his head. “The sky is the limit.”
What Penn State’s coaches say
Shortly after Godwin’s third-round selection, both head coach James Franklin and receivers coach Josh Gattis released written statements via email on the former Nittany Lion. Here’s what they wrote:
Franklin: “We are very excited for Chris to hear his named called during the NFL Draft. He was a terrific leader for us and made tons of big time plays during his Penn State career and I expect him to do the same with the Buccaneers. He has terrific leaping ability and ball skills that allows him to come down with a majority of contested catches. I believe Chris will add his name to the list of Nittany Lion wide receivers to excel at the next level.”
Gattis: “Chris Godwin has been an exceptional player and teammate during his time here at Penn State. Chris will be missed deeply by this program, but we wish him the best moving forward in his NFL career! Chris is an elite receiver that will have a very long and successful career in the NFL! His talent is a direct reflection of his work ethic. Chris has the ability to make an immediate impact in Tampa Bay!”