Welcome back to Bucs Report’s “Make-Or-Break” series!

We are going to highlight the players heading into their final contract year and discuss what they need to do on the field in 2021 in order to obtain another contract with the Bucs. One prerequisite that must be checked off in order to qualify: The profiled player(s) have to be in the final year of a multi-year deal. Players who signed one-year deals in 2021 will not be considered.

William Gholston and the Buccaneers so far…

During the 2012 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were abysmal at disrupting the quarterback position. They ranked dead last in passing yards allowed, while also giving up the fifth-most passing touchdowns. A lot of this was because they simply couldn’t rush the passer, evidenced by their 27 sacks and 62 quarterback hits.

Greg Schiano had a plan to fix that in the draft. He placed emphasis on getting a corner early and then beefed up the defensive line with a tackle and two defensive ends. One of those ends was William Gholston, a fourth-round pick who was expected to contribute and eventually evolve into a quality starter.

Gholston took a minute to get acclimated. He played in 12 games, starting two, and was on the field for roughly 30% of defensive snaps. The end result was 2.0 sacks and 30 tackles during his rookie season.

Gholston entered the 2014 season looking to improve, while expecting to simultaneously make a jump in production. With a slight uptick in snaps (52%) due to Adrian Clayborn’s injury, he saw more action. But his stat sheet still didn’t contain many splash plays. He managed only 2.0 sacks, again, despite nine starts. He did see a decent jump in tackles for loss, however, going from three to nine.

Gholston’s role started become much clearer in 2015. He was beginning to develop into a solid rotational player and his ear mark was stopping the run.

2016 was much the same as the past three seasons. There was solid play at hand, but nothing in terms of a standout performance(s). But there was enough on the field to where Jason Licht wanted Gholston to stick around. So, in March of 2017, Licht signed Gholston to a five-year, $27.5 million deal. Some found this head-scratching.

The questionable signing became more haunting in 2017 as Gholston’s performance was poor. He had little impact in the run, much less the passing game.

2018 featured regression, but 2019 featured hope. Gholston proved he is better suited for Todd Bowles’ defense as opposed to Mike Smith’s. Things really started to turn around during his seventh season.

It all came together in 2020. The light came on and started to apply heavy pressure to quarterbacks. He tied his career-high of 3.0 sacks, but Gholston was a consistent presence all year long in both run defense and pass rush. 2020 saw him finish with a career-high -and team-high- 20 quarterback hits, which was nearly triple his previous career-high of eight.

Gholston will be 29-years-old when the 2021 season starts, but he’s playing the best ball of his career. How much does he have left?

What does he need to do in order to get that third contract?

Gholston now enters a contract year after one of the best statistical -and most productive-seasons of his career. The players he started with last year have all returned. In order to show that last season was not an anomaly, Gholston has to repeat or further improve.

Particularly, though, Gholston needs to return to being the run-stuffing individual he was before. With 269 run defense snaps, Pro Football Focus (subscription required, PFF), gave Gholston a measly 45.8 grade in run defense. That’s a far cry from the previous years where he averaged a grade of 60.9. If he can re-establish that part of his game and continue his newfound pass-rushing ability, the odds of a third contract will continue to increase.

How are his prospects shaping up for 2022?

With the 2022 season on the horizon, Gholston’s prospects are up in the air. The Buccaneers are returning all their starting cast. This bodes well for him, but at the same time, it doesn’t.

It’s good for him for continuity’s sake. He knows the players around him, how they play, and their nuances. The familiarity will be beneficial. He will be more comfortable. But on the other hand, this has opened the door for the Buccaneers in the draft. At this point, they can draft the best player available or seriously plan for the future and ensure continued success.

This means the Buccaneers could spend a pick on a defensive end/tackle. Gholston, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Nadamukong Suh are all over 30-years-old and will need to be replaced. If a high draft pick comes in and plays well, Gholston could be target No. 1 for replacement. But if he proves that his best is yet to come, then everything should be fine for the future.

Final Prediction

The prediction is really dependent on the draft. Drafting a player in the same position dims the light for Gholston to return in 2022. A draft pick would be younger, could have a higher ceiling, and would be cheaper.  If I were the general manager, I would be looking to draft a defensive end in preparation for the future. Gholston likely plays elsewhere in 2022.

For more follow us on Twitter @Bucs_Report and me at @BucSalty