Outside of Lamar Jackson, Buccaneers wideout Chris Godwin was the biggest breakout star in the NFL last season, and it's time to pinpoint who's next. At just 23 years old, Godwin, the former third-round pick, finished third in the league in receiving yards (1,333) and was voted a second team All-Pro by the Associated Press despite lining up opposite superstar Mike Evans.
While an eruption exactly like the one Godwin experienced isn't bound to happen every season, we do see young players emerge as stars in the NFL on an annual basis. My pick for the Godwin-type breakout in 2020 is another former Round 3 selection who plays on a team with a highly paid, household name at receiver.
In 2019, Michael Gallup emerged as one of the most productive No. 2 receivers in the NFL. Labeling him as a "No. 1b" would've been more appropriate. He logged only six fewer targets than Amari Cooper (119 vs. 113) with 82 fewer yards (1,189 vs. 1,107) and averaged 9.8 yards per target to Cooper's 10.0.
From route-running and contested-catch perspectives -- which are pretty darn important -- Gallup's 2019 was nearly identical to Godwin's 2018.
Yahoo's Matt Harmon tracked all the routes run by Godwin and Gallup in those respective seasons in his Reception Perception series, which yielded these results:
Success Rate vs. Man Coverage
Chris Godwin 2018
Michael Gallup 2019
(*Harmon defines a "success" by a route in which a receiver got open, and contested-catch rate is self-explanatory.)
And while it'd be pretty stupid of me to take anything away from Godwin's phenomenal 2019 season, per PlayerProfiler, he did spend nearly 51% of the Buccaneers' offensive snaps in the slot, where there's lot more room to operate, the chance of getting a nickel -- No. 3 cornerback -- increases, and if an outside corner follows into the slot, he lands in an unusual, uncomfortable environment.
Gallup aligned in the slot just 10.1% of the time (!) in his second NFL season, meaning he was on the boundary for nearly 90% of his snaps, an extraordinarily high rate at a difficult position for such a young player, especially someone who was selected in the third round.
Considering everything, outside of his 11 drops -- which came after dropping just one pass as a rookie -- Gallup was every bit as efficient, if not more so, than Cooper last season. While NFL defensive coordinators certainly won't ignore Gallup in 2020, Cooper will remain the top game plan priority for every team Dallas faces. On most occasions, teams will send their No. 2 cornerback to Gallup, which presents an immense opportunity.
And Godwin knows all about that. Last year, he feasted on lesser cornerback such as Donte Jackson (Panthers), Grant Haley (Giants), Nickell Robey-Coleman (Rams), P.J. Williams (Saints), Javien Elliott (Panthers), Byron Murphy (Cardinals), and Tre Herndon (Jaguars), when Evans most saw a murders' row of cornerbacks in those same games; James Bradberry (Panthers), Janoris Jenkins (Giants), Aqib Talib (Rams), Marshon Lattimore (Saints), Patrick Peterson (Cardinals), and A.J. Bouye (Jaguars).
Cooper will draw the opposing team's top cornerback every time he's on the field. Tremendous news for Gallup.
The draft analyst in me has not completely forgotten about CeeDee Lamb, Dallas' first-round pick and my No. 1 receiver in the 2020 class.
He too will draw about as much attention as a rookie conceivably can.
After spending 79% of his snaps out wide over the past two seasons at Oklahoma (per PFF's Draft Guide), Lamb's presence will provide the Cowboys the legitimate possibility of moving around all three of their primarily outside receivers (Cooper was kicked inside just over 10% of Dallas' snaps last year), into the more advantageous slot position, which bodes well for Gallup too.
A receiver can't produce by his lonesome. The special receiver seasons don't just arise as a direct byproduct of quality quarterback play. High volume is required.
Dak Prescott attempted the sixth-most passes in football a season ago (596 tosses). On the surface, more positive news for Gallup. But diving into those 596 attempts provides even better news for Gallup (and the opportunity in front of the Cowboys pass catchers), because the high number of passes very well could be philosophical for Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.
According to Football Outsiders, on a snap-to-snap basis, only the Panthers operated faster as an offense than the Cowboys (25.54 seconds per snap) in 2019. And it wasn't as if Cowboys went uptempo to no avail. They averaged the sixth-most plays per drive (6.49) last season.
Prescott did only attempt 170 passes (28.5% of his attempts) when Dallas held a lead in 2019, and if you're of the belief the Cowboys are going to cruise through their schedule, that rather low percentage is scary. Heck, according to Pro Football Reference, 42.6% of Jimmy Garoppolo's attempts in 2019 came when the 49ers held a lead.
But Dallas did have just the 19th-best defense according to Football Outsiders' DVOA last year, and while high-profile prospects were drafted like Oklahoma defensive tackle Neville Gallimore and cornerback Trevon Diggs, gone are Byron Jones, Robert Quinn, Maliek Collins, and Jeff Heath.
The Cowboys will again look for their offense to carry the team. It's obvious. More passing opportunities for Prescott. More production for Dallas' receivers.
Gallup is a talented wideout who, like Godwin, slipped through the cracks in the NFL draft and landed on a team with an established No. 1 receiver.
He's a full-time player on a team with a higher-end quarterback and is part of an offense that's going to take to the air frequently in 2020. Individually, Gallup consistently "wins" against man coverage, routinely comes down with the football in contested-catch situations, and has impressive yards-after-the-catch ability. Per PFR, Gallup forced seven missed tackles last season, the same number as Deebo Samuel and Julio Jones.
Gallup hums quietly under the radar, won't get many No. 1 cornerbacks in his face, and the hype around Cooper and Lamb will actually aid the former third-round pick's ascension to stardom in 2020.