Underhyped Tandem Tops List of NFL's Most Dynamic Receiving Duos

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterOctober 1, 2019

Mike Evans is part a Bucs WR tandem that is on pace for a combined 3,000 yards receiving this season.
Mike Evans is part a Bucs WR tandem that is on pace for a combined 3,000 yards receiving this season.Jason Behnken/Associated Press

The best wide receiver duo in the NFL finally got everyone's attention Sunday.

Buccaneers wideout Chris Godwin caught 12 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns against the Rams. Godwin, the Buccaneers' No. 2 guy (for now, anyway), hammered away at the Rams defense on screens and short sideline routes until Mike Evans slipped past Marcus Peters for a 67-yard touchdown during one of the defender's on-field daydreams.

Evans finished with four catches for 89 yards and one touchdown, giving the pair a combined 16-261-3 stat line in a 55-40 Buccaneers defeat of the defending NFC champs and their star-studded defense. 

Evans and Godwin have now combined for 44 catches, 754 yards and eight touchdowns for the season. They are on pace for a combined 176 catches, 3,016 yards, a whopping 17.1 yards per reception and 32 touchdowns on the year, based on our scientific system for projecting season stats after four games (multiplying by four). Godwin is on pace for 104-1,544-16, while Evans is on pace for 72-1,472-16.

Evans and Godwin are doing all of this with Jameis Winston at quarterback, who remains his usual turnover-happy, wildly inconsistent self. The Buccaneers offensive line isn't very good. Their running game is an afterthought. They've been productive against solid Rams, Panthers and 49ers defenses, and also against the Giants.

Offensive mastermind Bruce Arians deserves some credit for Evans and Godwin's success, but if an offensive mastermind is scheming to get you the ball, that's just further evidence that you are pretty darned good. 

Evans is a two-time Pro Bowler coming off five straight 1,000-yard seasons. He's a mismatch waiting to happen with a knack for outjumping defenders and hauling in errant passes, making him a perfect fit as Winston's go-to guy. 

Godwin left Penn State as a buzzy third-round pick in 2017, but he got lost in the crowd as former Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter tried to spread footballs among him, Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. (Yes, Koetter and Winston had all of that talent and went 10-22 over two seasons, but that's a topic for another day.) Godwin is a precision route-runner with reliable hands and a physical style that makes him tough to bring down after the catch.

Chris  Godwin is flourishing under new Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians.
Chris Godwin is flourishing under new Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians.Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

No one doubts that Evans and Godwin are very good. But you may be skeptical about that "best receiving duo in the league" label. Godwin is still relatively unproven. Evans has always been more of a top-10 guy than a top-three guy. The Buccaneers are, you know, the Buccaneers. It's been only four games. There has to be a better receiver combination somewhere in the NFL, right?

Let's size up the competition and see if anyone else can claim the title.

Challengers: Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, Vikings

The skinny: Diggs and Thielen are the guys who spring to mind when someone says "great wide receiver duo." They combined for 215 catches, 2,394 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.

The numbers: Thielen and Diggs have only 26 catches, 388 yards and three TDs this season, well off the pace of last year's numbers.

The case for Diggs and Thielen: They are the NFL's most well-established pair of top receivers and may be the league's best pure route-running tandem. They were probably the league's best in 2017, when they went 155-2135-12 with Case Keenum at quarterback for much of the year. They might have been the second-best tandem in the NFL last year behind the Battling Bickersons in Pittsburgh. 

Why Evans and Godwin are better: The case for Diggs and Thielen is based on the hypothesis that they make weak quarterbacks like Keenum better. But one look at this year's numbers indicates that they aren't making Kirk Cousins any better. Evans and Godwin are doing now what Diggs and Thielen did a few years ago to establish their reputation.

Challengers: Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, Falcons

The akinny: Jones is a Hall of Famer still in his prime. Ridley was the 26th overall pick last year and is coming off a 64-821-10 season as a rookie.

The numbers: Jones and Ridley have combined for 39 catches, 524 yards and six touchdowns this season. 

The case for Jones and Ridley: This duo looked like it might be the league's best entering this season. Jones' career accomplishments are unassailable, and Ridley is a dynamic playmaker who can both get open deep and punish defenses with yards after the catch if they devote too much attention to Julio.

Why Evans and Godwin are better: The Falcons' reception leaders this year are tight end Austin Hooper (28 catches) and possession receiver Mohamed Sanu (24). It's hard to argue that you are the best receiving tandem in the NFL when you aren't getting the ball much from a veteran quarterback on a 1-3 team. Part of the problem may be the Falcons' offensive coordinator —remember Dirk Koetter from a few paragraphs ago?—but if you're making excuses for a lack of production, you aren't making the top of this list.

Challengers: Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, Rams

The Skinny: Cooks is a 2014 first-round pick who bounces from Super Bowl contender to Super Bowl contender and always produces. Kupp is a gifted route technician. Woods is an old-school possession receiver who does the dirty work and quietly led the NFC champions in receptions and yards last season.

The Numbers: The Rams trio has combined for 77 catches, 991 yards and four touchdowns this season.

The case for Cooks, Kupp and Woods: If this were an article about wide receiver trios, they would win hands down.

Why Evans and Godwin are better: Cooks, Woods and the whole Rams offense were very ordinary without Kupp last year. Kupp and Woods need Cooks to stretch defenses to be effective. All three Rams receivers operate best as cogs in Sean McVay's machine. Put them in the circumstances Evans and Godwin dealt with before Arians' arrival, and you probably wouldn't have heard of any of them.

Challengers: Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, Browns

Gail Burton/Associated Press

The skinny: You know these guys. They've been BFFs since high school. They dominated at LSU. OBJ brings the highlights and headlines. Landry lights up points-per-reception fantasy leagues.

The numbers: OBJ and Landry have combined for 39 catches, 636 yards and one touchdown this season.

The case for Beckham and Landry: They may be the league's best duo based on pure athletic capability. They're also the most fun tandem to watch and the most entertaining pair to obsess about during the week.

Why Evans and Godwin are better: Let's check back if and when Beckham and Landry come within a mile of living up to their preseason billing. 

Other Challengers:

Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon, Patriots. Ask yourself what these guys would look like if Tom Brady were suddenly replaced by Winston. Answer: They would look like Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson.

Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, Cowboys. Cooper is unstoppable when at his best, and Gallup is a star on the rise. This duo was the league's best after the first two weeks. Then Gallup got hurt, and the schedule-makers flipped the Cowboys opponents' difficulty setting from "Sandbox Mode" to "Default."

Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, Chiefs. An injured guy and a tight end? Sorry. Wrong category, fellas.

DeAndre Hopkins and Anybody Else, Texans.  Fun fact: This is how the Texans actually list the wide receivers on their depth chart.

So you can give Diggs and Thielen the nod based on longevity if you like, or make a case for some other two receivers if you believe all things being equal, they'd surpass the Bucs' duo. But Evans and Godwin are producing great numbers against tough opponents under less-than-advantageous circumstances right now. That's a clear indicator that they belong at the top of the list.

They even make Buccaneers games a lot of fun to watch. And that may be their most amazing accomplishment of all. 

       

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.

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