Tampa Bay Buccaneers wideout Chris Godwin should play a key role in the team's success this year as the club transitions from quarterback Jameis Winston to Tom Brady.
He will enter camp as the No. 2 receiving option in a passing offense that finished first in the NFL last year. According to an anonymous ESPN poll of 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players, Godwin is one of the best active receivers in football.
ESPN ranked him No. 9 overall, and an unnamed coach passed along some impressive praise.
"There's a Steve Smith quality to him," the coach told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. "I'm not saying he's Smith, but he's a tough motherf--ker."
At 6'1" and 209 pounds, Godwin is bigger than the 5'9", 195-pound Smith, but that hardly measures the toughness both have shown on the field.
For Godwin, that manifested itself in 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns on 86 receptions in 2019—just his third year in the NFL. Smith didn't surpass 1,300 yards until his fifth season, but he accomplished the feat three times total as he earned five Pro Bowl nods and two first-team All-Pro honors in 16 seasons.
Smith wasn't afraid to take a beating while hauling in passes, and current executives and coaches have seen the same from Godwin.
Perhaps no play better combines Godwin's athleticism, awareness and hand-eye coordination with toughness than his touchdown-of-the-year candidate from last November against the Atlanta Falcons.
Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper ranked No. 10 on ESPN's list. Considering Cooper signed a five-year, $100 million extension this spring, that should bode well for Godwin next offseason when he becomes a free agent.
Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht has already stated his desire for Godwin to remain a "Buccaneer for life".
No. 8 on ESPN's rankings is Los Angeles Chargers receiver Keenan Allen, while fellow Tampa Bay star Mike Evans comes in at No. 6.
If Godwin continues to play up to the Smith comparison, it shouldn't be much longer until he forces his way into the league's top five.