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Gerald McCoy is in for a big 2018 season

With new talent around him, the Buccaneers’ vet should be in for one of his best seasons to date.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Gerald McCoy is in for a big 2018 season and given the weird aura that follows McCoy among some fans who consider the former third overall pick a disappointment, this is a great year to break out.

McCoy has come close to greatness once, back in 2013 where his 9.5 sacks granted him first team All-Pro status as he nearly ended the team’s double digit sack drought. 2018 is the year he’s going to break down the door and help take the team to the next level on defense. Jason Licht went out and got McCoy some proven help in Jason Pierre-Paul, Beau Allen and Vinny Curry. Mitch Unrein and Vita Vea also were added via free agency and the teams top draft pick this offseason. McCoy has some real running mates for the first time since Michael Bennett was turning into a dominant running mate back in 2012.

Case one for McCoy booming is the pride of the offseason acquisitions on defense, Jason Pierre-Paul (JPP). JPP has never played with a talent on the interior like McCoy and quite frankly McCoy has never had a defensive end with the career numbers of JPP either. JPP will be 29 this year and is averaging 8.4 sacks every 16 games, including 8.5 a year ago. McCoy should be able to help alleviate double teams that JPP may previously have had to endure and at the same time, JPP should help free up McCoy and close out some plays where McCoy flushes the quarterback out. A dynamite edge rusher will also keep that quarterback in the pocket a bit longer for McCoy to work his magic and blow up the middle. Fans should see a bit more of McCoy finishing quarterbacks on their backs just from the JPP addition alone.

Case two for McCoy having a big year in 2018 is the additions to the interior that should allow McCoy to be fresher in the 4th quarter where given the offenses weapons, the team should be allowed to pin their ears back a bit more this season and get after the quarterback. A steady rotation that should include Beau Allen, Gerald McCoy, Mitch Unrein and Vita Vea means McCoy’s snap count may fall slightly (76.11% of snaps in 2017) but that extra energy saved will pay dividends when McCoy is able to focus solely on the pass rush late in games. McCoy’s best season to date saw him play 90% of the snaps, those days are long gone. In 2015 McCoy notched 8.5 sacks with little help around him playing 72.97% of the snaps. Henry Melton, William Gholston and Jacquies Smith were McCoy’s running mates that year and only Gholston surpassed 60% of the snaps with steady drop off in production from the rest of the defensive line aside from Smith. Pierre-Paul, Noah Spence, Gholston and Curry are all going to be needed to help keep the exterior pass rush fresh while Vea, Allen and Unrein will need to provide a little help in the middle. If McCoy is given minimum help inside from the others while the edge rushers provide a steady flow of pass rush then Gerald will undoubtedly get free enough to make things happen for this defense. Those additions to the line also help with the overall competitiveness of the group as McCoy touched on.

“That’s the only way to take it to the next level. The great thing about the guys that we brought in, they all – except for Vita since he came out of college – all of them have been to the Super Bowl. Three of them won it. So they know what it takes. They know what it is to be accountable,” McCoy said. “That’s why I haven’t had to do much up front with the D-line, because we brought in guys that know what that’s like. They know what they need to do so I don’t have to say this, say that, do that – they’ve been where I want to go. They’re teaching me. It’s going to be great.”

Case three for McCoy having a big year is less about others and more about himself. McCoy is 30 years old and one more great year may be all he has before he begins to fade. Big men in this league rarely continue to play at a high level past 30 years old. If McCoy is ever going to be the factor that turns this franchise around defensively, this will be the year. The offense has the talent and the quarterback to do it, the defense now has the front seven to do it around him. 2018 is Gerald McCoy’s year. This is the year he can wreck things in the fourth quarter of meaningful games. This is the year McCoy can help lead this team to the playoffs.

A few tidbits before wrapping this up thanks to some last minute twitter conversations. Gerald McCoy has Hall of Fame numbers when compared to several other defensive tackles in the Hall, namely one being Cortez Kennedy as Buc Nation’s @becksnyc78 pointed out for me. Kennedy has three more seasons under his belt than McCoy and is roughly sitting 10 sacks in front of GMC. The current Buccaneers defensive tackle has a chance to match Kennedy’s sack numbers with a career year in 2018. More importantly than the numbers though are McCoy’s opportunity to make a lasting memory if he can help lead this team back to the playoffs. One thing is for sure, there’s a new feeling along this defensive line and the potential for something special to be brewing here.

“Absolutely. Like I said, I’m excited about the progress that we’ve made up to this point,” said McCoy. “You can see guys’ improvement, guys taking to coaching. Coach Buck (Brentson Buckner) is teaching and we’re just going to keep building off of that. There’s a lot of work to be done. We did what we could without pads...”

Whether or not this team is ready for that next level and going to the playoffs will be determined soon enough. There’s little denying that the talent is there up front on defense and along the offensive side of the ball. If this team executes on that side, the defense will be in a prime position to take advantage of opposing teams being in a position where they have to throw the ball. You can bet Gerald McCoy and company will be salivating the moment that opportunity arises. The veteran has a big chance to silence critics and shine this year. Buccaneer fans nation wide are counting on it.