The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a brutal loss on Sunday Night Football in Week 15, for two huge reasons. First, they lost to the Saints for the third time in the last two seasons. This allowed their bitter rivals to not only stay in the NFC Wild-Card race but also stay alive for the NFC South divisional crown. Second, they lost star receiver Mike Evans for the game and possibly Week 16, they lost running back Leonard Fournette for a week or two, and to cap the terrible night off, they also lost leading receiver Chris Godwin for the season due to a torn ACL.
For Godwin, the injury comes at an absolutely brutal time as he is currently playing on the franchise tag and is set for unrestricted free agency in three months. He will undoubtedly have to settle for a below-market deal or a one-year deal, something he would never have even considered before the injury.
For the Buccaneers, they must work to replace Godwin in an offense that passes the ball as much as any team in the league. The Buccaneers are lucky in a sense because Antonio Brown is due to return this week after a lengthy absence due to a hamstring injury and a league suspension due to him using a fake COVID-19 vaccine card. That will only be a part of the battle, however, as Godwin will need to be replaced by multiple players to make up for his impact on the game. Here are the three players, Brown included, that will have to step up in Tampa Bay's last three games if the Buccaneers plan to repeat as champions.
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Three Buccaneers who must step up without Chris Godwin
3. Rob Gronkowski
Godwin will be hard to replace because he is just as efficient out of the slot and out wide. According to Next Gen Stats, since 2019, Godwin has gained at least 150 yards on nine different types of routes: post, out, screen, hitch, cross, go, slant, in, and corner. When it comes to the inside routes, those will fall mainly into the waiting hands of Gronkowski. Gronk is the Buccaneers' most reliable target over the middle and has been Tom Brady's safety blanket for years. They will need to rely on that chemistry with Godwin out and if they can, they can at least make up a portion of what Chris brings to the table from the slot. Godwin is also an extremely good blocker, so expect Gronkowski to be asked to make a majority of those blocks going forward.
2. Scotty Miller
Miller is on this list for a couple of reasons. The first is that he received ample playing time in the game on Sunday after Godwin went down and the second is his speed. When Mike Evans and/or Antonio Brown line up in the slot, Godwin goes out wide and has thrived there. His average yards of separation per route on the outside (4.4) is almost two yards higher than it is in the slot (2.5,) meaning, the Buccaneers can have a rotating cast out-wide that is always fresh and attacking the deep part of the field. It will be up to Miller to soak up those snaps out-wide when Brown and/0r Evans end up in the slot.
1. Antonio Brown
This one is the most practical answer to who will replace Godwin in the lineup and in the stat book. Brown can easily slide right into Godwin's role as a versatile jack-0f-all-trades type of receiver. Brown is capable of playing on the inside and outside and playing at an elite level in both scenarios. He is also capable of running every route in the book and that is what will make him the most valuable asset when it comes to replacing Godwin. Brown may be a headache for his team, his fantasy managers, and his attorneys, but he is the Buccaneers best hope to repeat as champions.
All-in-all, the Buccaneers will be hard-pressed to replace what Godwin does. Perhaps Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians put it best in an article by the Buccaneers team website, saying of Chris' role on the team:
“It's the same thing I asked Larry Fitzgerald to do in Arizona. Once you go into that position you're going to do a lot of grimy blocking, but we're going to get you the ball. Between the numbers, Chris is devastating, but he's also really, really good outside. That's the thing that separates from a couple of other guys, that he's still a really good player outside, also.” – Bruce Arians