Are Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard Poised for Year 3 Fantasy Breakouts?

Are Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard Poised for Year 3 Fantasy Breakouts? article feature image

USA Today Sports. Pictured: Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard

  • Ian Hartitz analyzes the fantasy breakout potential of Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard in Tampa Bay.
  • Expectations are rising for the 2019 Buccaneers. The only question is how many fantasy superstars can the offense support?

Our experts are constantly refining their rankings and projections in the run-up to the 2019 season. Build custom cheat sheets featuring their latest updates with our Draft Kit.

There’s a lot to like about the potential of the Buccaneers entering the 2019 season. New head coach Bruce Arians has quite the history of enabling high-powered offenses that have produced league-winning fantasy football talent, with examples stretching from David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald to Willie Parker and Santonio Holmes.

The renowned quarterback whisperer is apparently working with one he loves, as Arians was quick to gush over Jameis Winston shortly after accepting the job back in January:

“I feel like I’ve got a great feel for him, his excitement for the game. His willingness to work is unbelievable. He’s in the office at 5 o’clock in the morning. … The whole thing is going to be built around him. I think he can win it all. I mean, he has the intelligence, the toughness, and obviously the arm, ability to lead a team.”

The rest of the league’s 12th-ranked scoring offense from a season ago offers even more reason for optimism.

Mike Evans remains the offense’s undisputed No. 1 target, joining A.J. Green and Randy Moss as the only players in NFL history to start their career with five consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards. Losing DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries wasn’t ideal, but more targets for potential Year 3 breakouts Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard might not be such a bad thing.

Let’s break down what the new-look Buccaneers offense could mean for the unit’s complementary options and dive into the fantasy football outlooks for Godwin and Howard.

Chris Godwin Is One of the NFL’s Better Talents at WR

It’s a bit unclear how Godwin fell all the way to the third round of the 2017 draft. He’s 6-foot-1 and 209 pounds with a 4.42-second 40-yard dash and an absurd agility that gives him a SPARQ-x athletic score in the 96th-percentile among all wide receivers.

Godwin didn’t exactly struggle at Penn State, either — 154 receptions for 2,421 yards and 18 touchdowns in three seasons is hardly a stat line to scoff at.

He’s proven fully capable of operating as one of the better players on the field any time he’s been given a chance to do so.

D-Jax missed six games over the last two seasons. Chris Godwin's lines in those:

— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) March 11, 2019

Godwin’s history of dominating in D-Jax’s absence isn’t based on a few lucky plays or blown coverages. Overall, Godwin ranks 17th among all wide receivers to run at least 500 routes over the past two seasons with 1.92 yards per route run (per Pro Football Focus).

There should be little argument at this point: Godwin is #good at football.

Helping matters for Godwin’s potential fantasy-friendly role in the Buccaneers offense is his ability to operate from the slot. Offseason coach speak should be taken with a grain of salt, but Arians did indicate that Godwin will see a lot of action from the slot and could be a 100-catch guy.

Godwin has the ability to beat defenses downfield, work in the slot and win contested-catch situations. It would be shocking if he continues to spend much time on the bench in an offense that’s suddenly thinner at wide receiver. Of course, that lack of depth could lead to a larger pass-game role for the offense’s other budding star.

O.J. Howard Has All the Looks of the NFL’s Next Great TE

Howard burst on the scene with 208 yards and two touchdowns during Alabama’s 2015 national championship victory over Clemson. The 6-foot-6, 251-pound tight end would later go on to dominate the combine, running the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds and grading out with a SPARQ-x score in the 88th-percentile of all tight ends.

It didn’t take long for Howard to start dominating at the NFL level.

The only tight ends who averaged more yards per route run than Howard (1.85) in 2017 were Zach Ertz (2.0), Travis Kelce (2.03), Hunter Henry (2.05), Rob Gronkowski (2.43) and Ricky Seals-Jones (2.96). That list shrunk to only Kelce (2.34) and George Kittle (2.83) in 2018.

There were times when Howard (2.26) looked more like an alpha wide receiver than tight end.

Only seven TEs have averaged at least two yards per route run among 100 tight ends with at least 100 routes over the past two seasons (PFF):

George Kittle (2.22)
Travis Kelce (2.2)
Rob Gronkowski (2.1)
OJ Howard (2.06) 👀
Hunter Henry (2.05)
Zach Ertz (2.02)
Mark Andrews (2.01)

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 13, 2019

He largely functioned as one of the league’s best tight ends before suffering a season-ending sprained foot and ankle:

  • Targets: 48 (12th among all tight ends in Weeks 1-11)
  • Receptions: 34 (T-10th)
  • Yards: 565 (fifth)
  • Yards per target: 11.8 (second)
  • Touchdowns: 5 (tied for third)
  • PPR: 120.5 (sixth)

Howard’s success was thanks in large part to the coaching staff’s decision to feature their athletically-gifted second-year talent instead of Cameron Brate, who has emerged as a reliable red-zone target for Winston since being picked up as an undrafted free agent out of Harvard.

OJ Howard (56% snaps) and Cam Brate (53%) largely split snaps in 2017.

Howard eclipsed that mark in 7/11 games in 2018:
Week 1: 65%
Week 2: 79%
Week 3: 66%
Week 4: 24% (hurt knee)
Week 6: 52%
Week 7: 66%
Week 8: 60%
Week 9: 55%
Week 10: 65%
Week 11: 72%

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 13, 2019

Brate continued to offer touchdown upside with a low yardage floor in 2018 with 30 receptions for 289 yards and six touchdowns. It’s unlikely he’ll ever be completely phased out as long as he’s in Tampa Bay, but Howard has at least emerged as the offense’s undisputed starting tight end.

Now for the million dollar question…

Who Will Be Featured the Most Behind Mike Evans?

The good news for future fantasy investors in the Bucs offense is that Arians has made a habit of getting his top-two pass catchers triple-digit targets:

  • 2013: Larry Fitzgerald (135) and Michael Floyd (113)
  • 2014: Fitzgerald (103) and John Brown (102)
  • 2015: Fitzgerald (145) and Brown (101)
  • 2016: Fitzgerald (150) and David Johnson (120)
  • 2017: Fitzgerald (161) and Jaron Brown (69)

Still, there’s perhaps been a bit too much credit given to Arians when it comes to his ability to consistently produce points and/or top-producing fantasy performers.

Arians has led three top-10 scoring offenses (2007 Steelers and 2015-16 Cardinals) during his 14 years as an offensive coordinator or head coach in the NFL. His most recent stint with the Cardinals produced some fantasy football magic, although this wasn’t a reality during each of his five seasons with them.

Top-20 PPR performers at their position with Bruce Arians in Arizona

2013: Palmer QB17, Fitz WR17
2014: Ellington RB19
2015: Palmer QB5, DJ RB7, Fitz WR7
2016: Palmer QB19, DJ RB1, Fitz WR11
2017: Fitz WR4

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 11, 2019

Evans and Winston are obviously the team’s best bets for top-20 fantasy finishes. Things are a bit less clear after that.

The backfield is a complete mess. Ronald Jones and Peyton Barber were painfully inefficient in 2018. Both deserve some leeway for an underwhelming run-game scheme, but at the end of the day, Barber and Jones respectively ranked 70th and dead last in yards per carry among 91 backs with at least 20 rush attempts last season.

The team’s additional unmentioned pass-game options are incredibly unproven. Either Breshad Perriman or sixth-round pick Scotty Miller appear poised to work as the offense’s field-stretcher in 3-WR sets. Arians compared Miller to his former-BFF John ‘Smokey’ Brown, while the former receiver finally started to capitalize on some of his first-round talent with the Browns last season.

The Bucs have three of the top-eight players from 2018 in terms of yards per target (min. 25 targets):

Tyler Lockett (13.8 yards per target)
Breshad Perriman (13.6)
Robert Foster (12.3)
O.J. Howard (11.8)
Will Fuller (11.2)
Albert Wilson (11.2)
Mark Andrews (11)
Mike Evans (11)

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 11, 2019

Godwin seems like the best bet to finish the season with the second-most targets on the Buccaneers considering his ability to simultaneously thrive as a field-stretcher and as a pristine route runner from the slot.

While Godwin and Howard each had 34 targets from the slot over the past two seasons, Godwin offers enhanced separation and contested-catch ability that should allow him to flourish with a career-high workload in 2019.

Howard remains more than capable of popping off during any given week, but it’s tough to favor him over Godwin considering Arians’ history of not producing fantasy-friendly tight ends and the continued presence of Brate.

Howard proved last season to be plenty capable of supplying top-10 numbers as a complementary pass-game option, but Howard remains a tier below fantasy football’s big-three at the position.

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