ATHENS – Before you can talk about Terry Godwin, you really need to talk about Malcolm Mitchell. These two Georgia Bulldogs are kindred spirits in many ways. They are also quite similar when it comes to their athletic gifts and what they mean to their team
Godwin is to Georgia this coming year as Mitchell was to the Dogs this last one. The Bulldogs need Godwin, one of few proven commodities within the receiving corps, to come through as a primary receiver. They need him to be productive and they need him to special.
Mitchell certainly was, maybe more so than a lot of folks give him credit, and that’s key here.
Mitchell didn’t have a wildly productive career as a receiver at Georgia, not on the scale of some before him. Therefore, some may have under-valued his worth. But between having to overcome injuries, having to play some on defense and then the offense shifting to more of a run-first philosophy his last couple of years, Mitchell simply didn’t get as many opportunities as some wideouts who had come before him at UGA.
But in that same context, it’s fairly incredible what he was able to do. Mitchell led the Bulldogs with 58 catches for 866 yards last season. That’s the eighth best single-season mark in the history of a school that has gone through some pass-happy seasons in the past. Those numbers came with Georgia running the ball 159 more times that it passed it.
And that’s what the Bulldogs need from Godwin this season — at least.
Most believe he can give it to them. Almost as astounding as Mitchell’s productivity during a season of half-hearted pass commitment was Godwin’s 35 catches and 379 yards as a freshman. Though slightly smaller than Mitchell (5-11 to 6-1), he is at least as athletic and maybe faster. The key unknown is whether Godwin can be as clutch as Mitchell when everybody in the stadium knows the quarterback is coming his way.
Mitchell, who became the fourth-round choice of the New England Patriots in May’s NFL draft, thinks Godwin can be.
“He’ll one day be a great player for the University of Georgia,” said Mitchell, who left UGA third all-time in career pass receptions with 174. “He’s already good. To become great – well, I believe he’s great already; but to be considered great — he just has to play more games and continue to make plays. And that’s going to come because of his talent level. Take advantage of every opportunity. When the ball comes your way do everything in your power to catch it and do something with it.”
Godwin showed a penchant for doing that, much as Mitchell showed in his first season with the Bulldogs. But to date that has been in a secondary role. It’s not a given that Georgia’s number-two option will like Godwin was this past season, and command defensive attention. The Bulldogs are still working on that.
But Godwin has been working, too. He has put at least 10 pounds of muscular weight on what was once a 5-11, 170-pound frame and is said to be in supreme condition. After averaging 10.8 yards per catch last season, now the Bulldogs are looking for ways to get the ball to him further downfield. Having freshman Jacob Eason in the fold at quarterback could help that as well.
Godwin will be involved in the return game again this season. So holding up to the rigors of being on the field and in the plans a lot may be Godwin’s biggest challenge. But staying healthy is the one thing over which none of these players have control.
Malcolm Mitchell can tell you that.
Reminder: This is not a ranking of Georgia’s best players, so to speak. It is an evaluation of which players are most vital to the team’s success in 2016 based on their own talent, the importance of their position, the depth at certain positions, and the strengths and weaknesses of the team.
And now, for the next entry …
3. Terry Godwin
WHY HE’S VITAL: Godwin is Georgia’s leading returning receiver with 35 catches for 379 and 2 touchdowns as a freshman last year. As such, he’s the leading candidate to replace Mitchell as the Bulldogs’ primary target. Mitchell had 58 receptions a year ago, the most since Mohamed Massaquoi had the same number in 2008. If Georgia is to return to being the balanced, pro-style offense it was under quarterbacks Aaron Murray and Matthew Stafford, they need Godwin to be the receiver they can rely on to get small chunks of yardage on quick slants, hitches and drags, then burning secondaries deep with regularity.
“We’ve got to go deep and make some completions in the vertical passing game. Terry gives us that. He plays with a swagger and toughness that you want.” – Georgia head coach Kirby Smart
Georgia proves more adept at not just throwing the ball more, but getting it downfield when they do. Godwin adjusts swimmingly to being a primary target and not only catches significantly more passes, but catches them further down the field and increases his 10.8 yards-per-catch average of a year ago. His presence as a downfield threat in turn opens up opportunities for the Bulldogs’ other receivers and their running backs and UGA returns to being the scoring juggernaut it was before.
Godwin is unable to overcome the increased attention of opposing defensive backs, no other receivers pick up the slack and Georgia is forced again into playing a conservative, run-first type of offense. Godwin has a lot of obstacles to overcome, between working with a new offensive coordinator, a new position coach and potentially a new quarterback. It could prove too much to master in one year.
Godwin definitely has the skillset and play-making ability to take the next step in his receiver development. He came to Georgia relatively raw in terms of being a refined receiver, having played quarterback and run the ball a lot in high school while spending his extra time playing baseball and other sports. Godwin, a 2015 draftee of the Atlanta Braves, has put his baseball aspirations on hold so he can concentrate full time on becoming highly-sophisticated wide receiver. Between his commitment, the development of other receivers and the emergence of Eason at quarterback, there are strong indications this could a big year for Godwin.