There are such few joys in life that are greater than drafting a fantasy football team. Gathering with your crew, laughter filling the room, perhaps a brew or two. It’s a blast. It can also be a chaotic, hectic nightmare keeping up with who all gets picked and who to choose and when. Picking between two evenly qualified players is difficult. One of those choices could very well come down to one like Chris Godwin vs DeAndre Hopkins. These two are both solidified fantasy stars but have question marks. Who do we take? Let’s try to find out.
Neither Godwin nor Hopkins is expected to be available for the start of the season. We know Hopkins won’t be after he was suspended for the first six games of the 2022 season for performance-enhancing drugs. The Cardinals’ bye week isn’t until Week 13, so Hopkins is guaranteed to miss half of the fantasy regular season.
Godwin’s absence is a bit more ambiguous. He tore his ACL in Week 15 of the 2021 season on December 19th. If ACL rehabs take around 10-10.5 months to fully prepare an athlete to return to play that would set Godwin up to return around Tampa’s Week 7 bout against the Carolina Panthers. It could be a longer rehab; it could be shorter; every athlete is different. However, it is a reasonable date to expect Godwin to return. If that is the case, then Godwin and Hopkins could return to the field in the same week.
If both return around roughly the same date, who separates from the other in terms of performance? Their fantasy outputs have been nearly identical the past two seasons. Since Hopkins migrated to the desert and joined forces with Kyler Murray in 2020, Hopkins has averaged 16.65 PPR points per game over the course of 26 games. In that same span, while Godwin got a new quarterback of his own in Tom Brady, Godwin has averaged 16.59 PPR points per game with an equal 26-game sample. In PPR formats, both of those averages would’ve been good for the WR11 in points per game last season.
Hopkins is older than Godwin. He just turned 30 which is around the time we see wide receivers take a slight dip in production. That dip hasn’t occurred yet, however. Hopkins ranked in the top 30 in numerous advanced stats according to playerprofiler.com including yards per route run (1.99; No. 29), yards per target (9.1; No. 21), route win rate (42.2-percent; No. 30) and win rate vs man coverage (39.8-percent; No. 21). Hopkins also posted a 31.3-percent dominator rating, which finished No. 9 among receivers and averaged 2.34 fantasy points per target. That was No. 6 at the position.
If there was an area of concern about Hopkins’ production last year, it was that he wasn’t the target hog we’ve been accustomed to seeing. Even if you take out the game against the Green Bay Packers, where he barely played and was bothered by a hamstring injury, Hopkins’ 17-game target pace came out to just 117. He hadn’t been below 150 targets since 2014. Perhaps better health along with the addition of Marquise Brown to stretch the field (a la Will Fuller dating back to Hopkins’ days in Houston) will make for more targets in his direction. In any case, there will be plenty of options for Kyler Murray to spread the ball around. I’d expect a bump in targets per game but not a massive one.
Godwin was plenty good last year too. He wasn’t as successful as Hopkins in running routes (42.2-percent route win rate; No. 69, and 28.7-percent route win rate vs man coverage; No. 77) but that didn’t stop him and Brady from carving up the league. Godwin finished No. 17 in the NFL in targets despite missing the last three games of the season. He averaged 9.14 targets per game (almost three more per game than Hopkins) thanks in part to Tampa chucking it a league-most 731 times last year (Kansas City was next with 675). Godwin ran the No. 14 most routes among receivers (532) and averaged 2.07 yards per route run. That ranked No. 23 at the position.
Godwin averaged 17.14 PPR points per game in 2021 before he got injured. Can he meet or exceed that number in 2022 when he returns? My answer is it depends on where he gets deployed. Godwin ranked No. 8 in the NFL among receivers in slot snaps with 464 of them. That’s important because of how slot receivers operate on the field. Corners defending slot receivers don’t press as often as those on the outside. Sometimes slot receivers get defended by linebackers. Slot receivers often get targeted close to the line of scrimmage and have more room to operate when running their routes with both directions available to them.
History of ACL Injuries
NBC Sports Chicago did look to see how receivers fare the year after tearing their ACL back in 2017. The results were fairly scattershot but most that returned saw their production. More recent ACL tears are more promising to Godwin. I only managed to find 11 more recent examples of notable fantasy receivers that tore their ACL since 2016.
What stands out the most? For me, it’s that the three slot receivers (Keenan Allen, Julian Edelman, and Cooper Kupp) all managed to average at least 16.25 PPR points per game. Meanwhile, the other three’s averages are roughly 11.04 PPR points per game. This puts Godwin’s 2022 situation in a conundrum.
Gage vs Godwin
The Buccaneers signed Russell Gage in free agency knowing Godwin might be unavailable at the start of the season. His slot rate was lower than Godwin’s last season (39.5-percent for Gage; 57.5-percent for Godwin), but Atlanta’s ravaged wide receiver was a big factor there. Gage is best in the slot. I’d guess he and Godwin would alternate with Godwin getting more slot snaps when he returns but that is not a guarantee. Primarily operating out of the slot would benefit Godwin more than playing outside but Godwin getting more work outside like he did in 2019 when he finished as the WR2 would be the best way to deploy a healthy Tampa Bay wide receiver corps.
Both Godwin and Hopkins are guaranteed to miss time. The difference is there are more concerns with Godwin. Hopkins can at least play in the preseason; we don’t know when Godwin will return. Working in Godwin’s favor is the NFL reduced the mandatory games missed when being placed on the regular-season PUP list from six to four. Maybe Godwin misses less time than Hopkins; maybe he misses more. Godwin also could come out of the gates slow and not perform like we’ve been accustomed to.
If we account for cost, Hopkins should absolutely be the preferred target over Godwin. Hopkins’ ADP at Underdog currently rests at the 7.04 and 75.7 overall. Godwin’s sits at 5.10 and 58 overall but has fallen nearly a full round from just a month ago. That’s too rich. Waiting for two rounds to get a player with a similar outlook is always good business. If Godwin slips to Hopkins’ range the value is much more palatable.
The decision becomes harder, but the numerous unknown variables associated with Godwin incline me to take Hopkins in a toss-up. The best course of action could very well be to take neither and look elsewhere (the aforementioned Gage sounds nice!) but taking receivers with WR1 upside in the seventh round is appealing if you play your cards right. Hopkins and Godwin are both great receivers in similar spots for the 2022 season. If I were to pick one, I’d give the slight edge to Hopkins.