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Making the Leap, No. 25: Buccaneers' Josh McCown

Around The League will profile the top 25 players we see Making the Leap in 2014. No. 25 on the list: Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown.

Why McCown is on the list


A career backup who was working as a volunteer high school coach after falling out of the league in 2010 and 2011, McCown produced an unlikely Indian Summer season under the golden touch of Bears coach Marc Trestman in 2013.

McCown generated a passer rating over 90.0 in all seven games in which he saw extensive action as Jay Cutler's backup in Chicago. He finished the season on top of ESPN's Total QBR and drew comparisons to Peyton Manning and Tom Brady for a two-month span that exceeded any similar stretch of Cutler's career.

When I went back and studied all 224 of McCown's passes, what first jumped out was his excellent pocket awareness, escapability and willingness to hang in and take hits while still delivering accurate strikes down the field. In his first month under center, McCown made more plays while being hit than Matt Schaub has pulled off in his last 20 games.

Typical of most 11-year veterans, McCown went through his reads and showed impressive ball placement and timing. Atypical of aging quarterbacks, McCown also demonstrated uncanny athleticism, improvisational skills and a willingness to attempt difficult throws in traffic.

As soon as he was within striking distance of the red area, McCown was aggressively attacking the end zone, exploiting mismatches granted by the size and athleticism of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett.

In short, McCown was spectacular in a half-season sample size.

Which raises the obvious question: Hasn't he already made the leap?

If that is the case, the NFL didn't take notice. Despite dramatically outplaying Schaub last season, McCown received a lesser contract. Schaub is essentially being paid as a second-tier starter for 2014 while McCown is earning borderline backup money in Tampa.

No team was willing to reward McCown as if he will repeat the success he enjoyed with Trestman. We believe he will.

Obstacles


The McCown skepticism has centered on four factors: his age (35 in July); his lack of success over a decade of NFL experience; how he will function outside of Trestman's offense; and whether he can succeed without the best wide-receiver duo in football.

The age isn't a major hindrance, as evidenced by the success of older quarterbacks, such as Manning, Brady and Drew Brees. His inability to hold down a starting job might be attributable to the dysfunctional nature of the organizations for which he toiled early in his career. If accuracy and arm strength were concerns at earlier stops, those were mitigated by the catch radii of the Bears power forwards hauling in his passes.

McCown won't be taking Trestman with him, but he does have the benefit of noted quarterback guru Jeff Tedford. The Buccaneers also heeded McCown's advice in copying the Bears' blueprint at wide receiver and tight end.

They will need rookies Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins to shorten the NFL learning curve if McCown is going to truly make the leap as the quarterback solution for the next few seasons.

2014 expectations


The light goes on for different players at different stages in their careers. Rich Gannon was a 36-year-old journeyman quarterback without a single season over 60 percent on completions when Trestman helped to ignite his career with the Raiders last decade.

A phenomenal athlete (see 1:05 through 1:58 in this video), McCown shares many of the same traits that helped Gannon to four Pro Bowl appearances in his mid-30s.

It bodes well for McCown's chances that he outplayed Cutler despite receiving fewer practice reps in Trestman's system.

He's not going to repeat last year's 13:1 TD-to-INT ratio, 66.5 percent completion rate, 9.1 yards per attempt and 109.0 passer rating without Trestman and the Bears' bullying wide-receiver corps.

It's fair to expect McCown to hold off Mike Glennon all season, though. Coach Lovie Smith already has anointed the grizzly veteran as his quarterback while Tedford and position coach Marcus Arroyo have been downright effusive in praise of his influence and leadership after just a few offseason practices.

If Evans and Seferian-Jenkins play to their potential as rookies, McCown might just follow Gannon's route to the Pro Bowl.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" picks the best receiver group in the NFL, and goes deep previewing the season with Bucky Brooks.

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