The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXVII at the end of the 2002 campaign, which is obviously the greatest season in team history so far. Quick: Name the MVP of that incredibly successful squad.
That's not as easy as it sounds. There were plenty of candidates, particularly considering that the league's number-one defense featured two players who are now in the Hall of Fame and three more who have gotten as far as semifinalist status for the Hall. There was also a red-hot quarterback, a touchdown machine in the backfield and an assortment of productive pass-catchers.
Even those officially tasked with choosing a Buccaneers Team MVP didn't agree. In the offseason following Super Bowl XXXVII, both the St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Sports Club named Buccaneer MVPs, representing the media and the fans, respectively. The media chose quarterback Brad Johnson; the fans selected linebacker Derrick Brooks. No word if Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Ronde Barber, Simeon Rice, Mike Alstott, Keyshawn Johnson or Keenan McCardell got votes. (Personally, given that Brooks was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, I've got to side with the fans here.)
The point is, there were a lot of good choices. That's a problem the Buccaneers would like to have again after the 2018 season. Tampa Bay's offense was on the verge of achieving elite status last year, ranking ninth in the NFL in net yards and fourth in passing yards, and could take it to that next level in 2018 if the running game is revived. The Bucs' offense wasn't nearly as successful in 2017, statistically, but has a lot of new pieces, particularly up front. If the defensive line is capable of generating much more pressure this year, the environment might be right for individual defensive stars to emerge.
And that's our debate topic for the day. All week, Buccaneers.com contributors Casey Phillips, Carmen Vitali and I are going to conduct roundtable discussions on a selection of team-related topics. Here's the schedule:
Monday: Which player will emerge as a training camp surprise?
Tuesday: Who will be the Buccaneers' team MVP in 2018?
Wednesday: What will be the most interesting position battle in training camp?
Thursday: In what area will the Buccaneers make the biggest statistical improvement in 2018?
Friday: What game on the Buccaneers' 2018 schedule are you anticipating the most?
As previously noted, the three of us are making a point not to duplicate picks during this Roundtable Week. As such, the order of selection is relevant, and we'll be rotating that all week. Today, it's Carmen's turn to go first, followed by Casey and me. Take it away, Carmen! Who will walk away with the Buccaneers' Most Valuable Player trophy this year?
View some of the best photos of the Buccaneers' defense from 2018 Mini-Camp.
Carmen Vitali: Gerald McCoy
Okay, so I know McCoy went on about how it wasn't just him that got help with all the defensive line additions this offseason and how it was the team that got better because of them. While that's absolutely true, I find it hard to think that McCoy won't personally see increased productivity because of it.
Think about it: with more of an edge-rush presence, that forces protection to the outside, thereby leaving less interior linemen free to double up on McCoy. Not to mention that may not even be an option anyway with guys like Beau Allen/Mitch Unrein/Vita Vea directly next to him. If McCoy can manage to lead the Bucs in sacks last year while getting double-teamed more often than not, think of what he could do if all he has to beat is one measly offensive lineman. I'm not talking about just sacks either – think quarterback hits and pressures and hurries. The man managed 24 quarterback hits in 2017, putting him among the best defensive linemen in the league. It was good enough to earn him Pro Bowl honors for the sixth straight year.
McCoy is a natural leader and has been for the Bucs. Should he lead what could be the best single unit on this team, I think he'd be a surefire candidate for team MVP, easy.
Casey Phillips: Kwon Alexander
Of all the topics we are going through this week, the team MVP award was the most challenging for me to come to a decision. I believe the Bucs will be a more balanced team this year on both sides of the ball, which made it hard to pick any one person to be the most valuable. As I went through all the ways the team has improved this offseason, Kwon Alexander came to mind as someone who could benefit immensely from those changes.
Alexander is asked not only to quarterback the defense, but also stop the run, pressure the QB, drop into coverage, and be one of the top tacklers. Because of that, Alexander needs to be in the MVP mix if the team wants to have success. All those additions on the defensive line should make his job a whole lot easier, which should lead to more opportunities for big plays and aggressiveness instead of playing catch up.
Lavonte David mentioned how much more fun the team seemed to be having this offseason, and that's right in Alexander's wheelhouse in terms of how he approaches the game. David said Alexander is always the biggest talker on the field. I think this is the year his play is just as loud, and it finally gets him the respect and notoriety he deserves around the league.
Scott Smith: Mike Evans
I have no problem with either of those two picks, but it is curious that I'm picking last and I'm the first to go with an offensive player, given the imbalance between those two sides of the ball a year ago. Obviously, Carmen and Casey are anticipating that turnaround for the Buccaneers' defense, because it would be hard to imagine a player on that side being named team MVP if the overall results are similar to last year.
In a way, I'm banking on the same sort of rebound. Last year, Mike Evans joined Randy Moss and A.J. Green as the only players in NFL history to open their careers with four consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons. However, Evans didn't cross into four-digit territory until his very last catch of 2017. That doesn't cheapen the accomplishment one bit, but it does make 2017 his least productive season, a dip of 320 yards (and seven touchdowns) from his 2016 Pro Bowl campaign.
Was this the product of a more fleshed-out array of targets in the Bucs' passing game? If so, that might suggest Evans would put up similar numbers in 2018 as the ball is distributed more evenly among the likes of DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin, Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard and an assortment of running backs. And if that happens, it might be hard to justify picking just one of those targets, even if it is the lead target, as the Buccaneers' overall MVP.
I'm going to go with the alternate "a-rising-tide-lifts-all-boats" theory. I think the Buccaneers' offense can go to another level this year with greater success in the red zone and a much better rushing attack with the additions of Ronald Jones and Ryan Jensen. Evans will still lead the way, and with Jackson having a greater impact in his second year and Godwin becoming more of a problem for opposing defenses, he may even find more open space in the secondary. Evans has hit a dozen touchdowns in two of his four seasons. If he gets back to that level and adds a couple hundred yards to his final total, I think he'll be seen as the number-one reason for the Buccaneers' success.