There are plenty of perceptions about Marquise Goodwin.
He’s too small to succeed in the NFL.
He’s always hurt.
He’s nothing more than a “track star” trying to play football.
The clock is ticking as Goodwin tries to prove to the Buffalo Bills that those things aren’t true. The former third-round draft pick is coming off an injury-plagued, one-catch season in 2014, and also lost his job as the team’s primary kick returner.
So what has to happen for Goodwin to turn his career around?
“Just opportunity – and staying healthy,” he said. “That’s all I got to do, is just focus on staying healthy. I think that was my biggest nemesis. Staying out of the training room, staying in the weight room more and just being healthy.”
Goodwin appeared on the Bills’ injury report seven times in 2014, for a concussion, hamstring, ribs and ankle injuries. He missed six games, although some of those were based on former coach Doug Marrone’s game-day decisions.
“A lot of the injuries I had were very minor and it was kind of blown up a little bit,” Goodwin said. “But part of that has to do with me being in the training room so often. The nagging injuries, I’ve just got to suck it up and play through it.”
Not surprisingly, Goodwin is eager to put that chapter of his career behind him. Asked if he believed the previous staff properly utilized him, he sidestepped the question and said he’s “focused on now. The coaching staff here knows how to get me involved, and that’s what’s most important.”
“You have to be on the field to be productive,” new Bills coach Rex Ryan said. “If you’re not on the field, it’s hard to knock a guy for not being productive.”
Ryan has made it clear that all of the team’s holdovers from last season will have a fresh start with his staff. For a player like Goodwin – whose career was going the wrong way under Marrone and Co. – that’s the best possible news.
“I do enjoy the coaching staff that we have here,” he said. “I’m very confident in everything. The changes that the organization has made, I think it’ll benefit me a lot. I’m looking forward to this season.”
Ryan has praised Goodwin during spring practices, but that has to come with a proper amount of perspective.
“It’s just minicamp,” Goodwin admitted. “It’s early. Everybody is making plays. We haven’t even put the pads on yet. … We’re going against air, so I’d hope I’d be making some plays.”
Goodwin’s right. A former member of the U.S. Olympic team in 2012 as a long jumper, he should look good in what amounts to a track and field competition. His 4.27-second 40-yard dash at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine is the third-fastest time since 2006. He still has to prove, however, that his 5-foot-9, 179-pound frame can withstand an NFL season.
The Bills have been burned in that regard before. The team selected T.J. Graham – like Goodwin a collegiate track star – in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He lasted just two seasons with the team, making 54 catches for 683 yards and three touchdowns before he was cut prior to the 2014 season.
Consider that Graham’s production outweighs that of Goodwin, who has 18 catches for 325 yards and three touchdowns in two years. At the moment, it looks like a dubious decision by the team to double down on such similar players in the third round of consecutive drafts.
Goodwin, though, did show flashes of ability as a rookie, when he scored all three of his touchdowns on plays of 40-plus yards – including one against Ryan’s Jets. That memory has stuck with the Bills’ coach.
“He’s got great speed, he’s got all the tools, he can run routes,” Ryan said. “The pads are nothing. The pads are what you do. You better be able to carry them or you’ve got no business playing in this league. He’s not just a ‘track guy.’ If he was just a track guy, you might have those concerns. But he’s a football player. As far as proving things, just get out and play. I would be shocked if he doesn’t play well.”
Goodwin will have to in order to make the Bills’ 53-man roster.
While 13 receivers are technically vying for five or six spots, in reality only one or two of those jobs is really up for grabs. Barring injury, Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Percy Harvin are locks as the team’s top three, and Marcus Easley’s special-teams acumen makes him an ideal No. 5. Chris Hogan is coming off a breakout season and also contributes to special teams, so he’s got the inside track on the No. 4 job. That means Goodwin could be left competing with eight other receivers for possibly one job.
“There was a great deal of competition as-is,” Goodwin said. “Then we added Percy … and a few other people to the mix, and that’s great. I think it’s great for our room, it’s great for the camaraderie in the room, and it’s great for the team.”
It might not be great for Goodwin, though. Harvin figures to be the team’s primary returner provided he’s healthy – not a guarantee for a player familiar with the trainer’s room – and the Bills still have Marcus Thigpen under contract, another return specialist.
“All I can do is focus on me and worry about me,” Goodwin said, “what I can do to help our team win, and that’s just doing my job.”
The Bills signed two more of their draft picks on Thursday, inking guard John Miller, the third-round pick from Louisville, and fifth-round pick Karlos Williams, a running back out of Florida State.
The only picks still to be signed are cornerback Ronald Darby, the second-round selection out of Florida State, and linebacker Tony Steward from Clemson, a sixth-rounder.