Sometimes, it just isn't that complicated.
At the intersection of a significant team need and a rare prospect stood the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the exact resource they needed to marry those two elements. As a result, the newest Buccaneer is Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
This marks the ninth time the Buccaneers have taken a defensive linemen in the first round, but the first time since 1976 they have started a draft with an Oklahoma Sooner at that position.
That was the very first college draft pick in franchise history and it produced Lee Roy Selmon, who would become the heart and soul of the Bucs' first great defense and, in the end, the team's first Hall of Famer. The Buccaneers won't burden McCoy with such grand expectations, but they do believe he will become a key component in the new foundation they are building primarily through the draft.
McCoy and the Buccaneers had been linked by draft analysts for months, and for good reason. Tampa Bay's proud defense has lacked a penetrating force in the middle of the line since the days of Warren Sapp, and McCoy is considered one of the best pass-rushing DT prospects to hit the draft in years. When the St. Louis Rams started the draft with McCoy's college teammate, quarterback Sam Bradford, and the Detroit Lions followed with Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, it was an easy but very rewarding decision for the Buccaneers in the third spot.
The 6-4, 295-pound McCoy played three seasons at OU, started all 40 games in which he appeared and recorded 83 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 33 tackles for loss, 21 quarterback pressures, one interception, four passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He was an extremely versatile defender on the NCAA's eighth-ranked unit, lining up in a variety of positions along the Sooners' front.
Scouts rave about virtually every aspect of McCoy's game, from his explosive first step and array of pass-rushing moves to his strength and ability to clog the middle against the run. The Sooners ranked eighth in the nation against the run and opponents found it exceedingly difficult to move the ball in McCoy's direction, as the agile defender made 20 of his 34 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
McCoy is also seen as a perfect fit for the "three-technique" position in the Buccaneers' scheme, the spot once manned so effectively by Sapp. The position is considered a critical one in any Cover Two-based defense, and Tampa Bay reincorporated some of that approach to their playbook over the last six games of the 2009 season, to good results. Head Coach Raheem Morris, who took over the defensive play-calling duties for those six games, will stay in the role of coordinator in 2010 and the Bucs will continue to tap into their deep-seated knowledge of the Cover Two.
As such, McCoy could have an instant impact in the Bucs' front. Before slipping to 27th in the rankings last year, Tampa Bay had finished in the top 10 in defense in the NFL in 11 of the 12 previous seasons. That included top-10 rankings in 2005 and 2007 despite a pass rush that has diminished in recent years. The Bucs averaged 46 sacks per season from 1999-2002, culminating in the Super Bowl XXXVII title, but have not topped 36 sacks in any of the last five years.
Tampa Bay's secondary has ranked in the NFL's top 10 in pass defense in eight of the last nine years, including the last three, and has recently added such talented players as Tanard Jackson and Aqib Talib. If the team can significantly increase its pressure up front, that promising backfield should be even more effective.
McCoy won't do that all by himself, but he could make all the players around him better. The young lineman is capable of taking on double teams and he can also draw blockers away from the edges with his rush up the middle. He has good football instincts and can demolish plays with his relentless backside pursuit.
McCoy played his prep ball at Southeast High School in Oklahoma City, where he was named the USA Today National Defensive Player of the year in 2005. He racked up 20 sacks during his senior year at Southeast. As a redshirt freshman at OU in 2007, he earned Freshman All-America honors and was the top newcomer in the Big 12. In 2008, he graduated to the All-America first team, as selected by The Sporting News.
Though he most obviously follows in Selmon's footsteps, McCoy is actually the third Oklahoma player the Buccaneers have selected in the first round. Tampa Bay nabbed Sooner offensive lineman Davin Joseph with the 23rd overall pick in 2006, and he immediately settled in as the Bucs' starting right guard. Joseph was named to his first Pro Bowl following the 2008 season.
The Buccaneers have started their draft with a player out of the Big 12 for the third consecutive season, and the fourth time in the last five years. After Joseph in 2006, Tampa Bay selected Talib out of Kansas in the first round in 2008 and followed with Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman with the 17th overall choice in 2009.
McCoy is the highest-drafted player for the Buccaneers since they took Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde with the first overall selection in 1987. This is just the second time the team has used a top-three pick on a defensive player, following the 1976 choice of Selmon.