Could Will Gholston Be Poised for a Breakout Season?


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in another year of Todd Bowls’ System and one statistic fans like to recite is the ability for his defenses to improve in the second year. After two weeks it looks as though William Gholston is rising to the challenge. If he continues on the path, he has set in the first two weeks he could have the best season of his career.


Getting His Feet On Unstable Ground

In 2013 Gholston was selected in the fourth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to be a rotational talent with starting potential on the defensive front. Unfortunately, he was drafted by a team in constant turnover and turmoil. It left him to start his career under Bill Sheridan, an underwhelming defensive coordinator.

For 30% of the defensive snaps, Gholston gave a decent return on investment for a fourth-round pick. Starting only two games he pushed the stat line to two sacks, 30 total tackles, three tackles for loss, and five quarterback hits.

Coaching Turn Over Number One

In year two, 2014, the Buccaneers changed staff and Leslie Frazier came in to be the defensive coordinator. Undeterred by the shakeup Gholston looked to improve his play. With the new staff, he earned more playing time. Pushing over 50% of defensive snaps Gholston increased his combined tackles, tackles for loss, and quarterback hits. Furthermore, he graded out better than his rookie year.

Slow Upward Trajectory

One thing a coach likes to see is an improvement in players. Gholston 2015 saw him improve again in his Pro Football Focus (Subscription Required) grade. He improved in just about every statistical area and finished the season with three sacks. But the team still failed to meet expectations and more change was ahead.

Coaching Turn Over Number Two

It is hard to improve when the system constantly changes and coaching turnover is high. In 2016 the Buccaneers cleaned house and brought in Dirk Koetter as head coach and Mike Smith as defensive coordinator. Though Gholston’s stats seemed on par with his previous year’s stats there was a drop in his PFF grade and at the end of the year, there seemed to be a distrust of him by his coaches. This would carry over to the next year.

Drop-In Production

Mike Smith returned in 2017. Therefore, Gholston saw his snap count reduced and started fewer games than the year prior. Whether it was seemingly lingering injures, distrust in the defensive scheme, or lack of motivation it was not a good year for him. He returned to rookie-level stats and grades while at times seeming like a liability on the field. He yielded no sacks and had an overall abysmal season.

Suffering Under Smith Continues

To be fair the entire defense suffered in Mike Smith’s system. 2018 was no different than in 2017. Still unfavored and untrusted Gholston saw a further drop in the snap count. His stats and impact were almost nonexistent. He started only two games and registered only one sack. linebackers coach Mark Duffner would replace Mike Smith after he was fired week six.

Coaching Turn Over Number Three

In 2019 Gholston again found himself looking at new staff. It has to be hard to consistently perform when there is such a terrible coaching carousel in place. Subsequently, it takes determination to keep your head in the game and keep trying. In 2019 Tod Bowles the current defensive coordinator came in and is seemingly giving Gholston the coaching, he needs to improve and make an impression. Moreover, receiving an increase in games started and snaps played Gholston started to get back on the stat sheet. His pass rush and run-stopping ability flourished. He graded out well.

However, this may have been part supporting cast it was certainly within the realm of possibilities. Looking through his early career shows he has the talent. 2019 showed with the right scheme and coach he could contribute and perform well.

Can He Break Out In 2020

We are currently only through two games but in that short span, Gholston appears to have started right where he left off last season. He already has a sack and two quarterback hits. He has already tied his tackles for loss from his rookie season with three and has nine combined tackles. His snap count is back up to about 50%. If he continues at this rate he will have the best season of his career. He very well could break out!


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