The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had quite the haul during the 2018 NFL Draft, selecting eight players after general manager Jason Licht traded down twice – once in the first round and again in the second round. Now it’s time for PewterReport.com’s Scott Reynolds to review the 2018 Bucs draft class and assign some initial grades based on the players’ attributes and value based on the round they were selected.

Defensive tackle Vita Vea, the team’s first-round pick, is up first. Up next is running back Ronald Jones II, who was the first of Tampa Bay’s three second-round picks.

Round 1: Washington DT Vita Vea – 6-4, 347 – Junior

Bucs fans seem divided over the Vea selection, but Gerald McCoy won’t play forever and Tampa Bay is getting a massive 6-foot-4, 347-pound defensive tackle that can play the nose or the three-technique spot. The drafting of Vea is as much for down the road as it is for this year.

Washington DT Vita Vea - Photo courtesy of Univ. of Washington

Washington DT Vita Vea – Photo courtesy of Univ. of Washington

Licht and Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Mike Smith both have an affinity for big defensive tackles, and Vea is as big as they come. Smith had success in Jacksonville with massive defensive tackles like Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, and Vea is that type of caliber player.

Vea’s immediate value comes in stuffing the run, taking on double teams and freeing up not only McCoy and other defensive linemen to get one-on-ones, but keeping guards from getting to middle linebacker Kwon Alexander. That’s why Alexander was one of the first Buccaneers to reach out to Vea on Twitter and welcome him to Tampa.

Vea, who was a PewterReport.com Bucs’ Best Bet and featured in the second 2018 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft, is more than just a run stuffer, though. He can also push the pocket as a pass rusher, which helps against pocket passers like New Orleans’ Drew Saints and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan that Tampa Bay will face twice a year. The Bucs got a defensive tackle with extremely rare size and movement ability.

The Question Marks

Vea played a non-humid climate up in Washington and as a big man, he’ll have to get acclimated to Tampa’s tropical climate that features plenty of heat and humidity. Although he carries his 347 pounds extremely well, Vea will have to take his conditioning to a whole new level to become an every down force in the NFL. Vea is also still learning how to rush the passer and may never be a defensive tackle capable of getting more than five sacks.

The Rookie Season Expectations

During his rookie year Vea will rotate with McCoy and Beau Allen inside the way Clinton McDonald did last year with McCoy and Chris Baker. It seemed like McDonald was starting because he made the most of his time and finished second on the team with five sacks. Time will tell if Vea can make a similar impact. Expect a modest sack total for Vea as a rookie – maybe two or three – as he develops as a pass rusher, but his power and presence inside should create sacks for others along Tampa Bay’s front seven.

The Grade: A-

Was Vea the right pick over Florida State safety Derwin James, who was also the other player being considered at No. 7 and then again at No. 12? Only time will tell, but massive, athletic defensive linemen like Vea don’t come around often and he’s just scratching the surface of how good he can become.

Up Next: RB Ronald Jones II

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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Horse
3 years ago

Get all these rookies and free agents use to our outdoor weather before they go indoors.

Freeman Strickland
Reply to  Horse
3 years ago

Doing that about once a week to break them down is fine. But, do it too often and they never really recover; it just wears them down. Time and again, Tampa coaches have tried and failed to use the Florida heat and humidity to make super players. It just does not work. The idea that what does not kill you makes you stronger has some real limits when it comes to the heat and humidity in Florida. Quick twitch training for repetitions works much better without heat stress. So does strength training.

BigSombrero
Reply to  Freeman Strickland
3 years ago

I agree with Freeman Strickland on this one. Players and residents of Tampa get used to the heat because they live in it. Working out in a temperature controlled environment is better for the players, but the problem is the space isn’t big enough to rep all the positions at the same times. Coaches need all the fields for all the different positional work. I think they could find a way to utilize the space regularly to help preserve players for the season.

EricNV
Reply to  BucWild02
3 years ago

I think they ought to rotate the units and groups during training camp. Most players can then spend most of their training time indoors while getting some training in the brutal heat.

Schwifty9
3 years ago

The biggest thing that I’ve noticed about Vea on tape, is that when he keeps his pad level low, he dominates and penetrates the backfield regardless of how many people are trying to stop him. When his pad level gets too high, he does very little and can be stopped by 1 dude and get driven out of his gap by double and triple teams. This is very promising however because I feel that Brentson Buckner is an excellent coach and is capable of getting the most out of this monumentally talented Tongan. Speaking of Tongan’s, Tonga is very hot… Read more »

e
e
Reply to  Schwifty9
3 years ago

Good point on the Tonga climate.

makski
Reply to  e
3 years ago

No, it’s not. Just because his family is from Tonga, that doesn’t make him built for our weather. I was born in Chicago, and as a kid, I handled the cold well because we lived there. Then I moved to Florida, and I was never cold. Played college football in Minnesota, and no one could believe I was from Florida. The kids from MN were all freezing and trying out all the new gloves because their hands were too cold. I was the only WR not wearing gloves and catching the balls bare-handed. Now that I am back in FL,… Read more »

e
e
3 years ago

The rotation will be crucial to Vea being effective. I wonder why so many GMs passed on Derwin? There’s a deeper story there somewhere.

BigSombrero
Reply to  e
3 years ago

As a group, Safeties do not earn more than QBs, OTs, DEs, DTs, CBs, WRs, OCs or RBs. The reason is because they are the lowest valued starting position on the field except maybe guard. It is RARE that a guard is drafted in the top 12. It just is as rare that a Safety is drafted then. They don’t touch the ball. They don’t call defenses. They don’t have to cover the teams best receiver. They are there for run support, coverage on a tight end, or double coverage typically. Derwin James had low production last year, but he… Read more »

Bucsfan1983
3 years ago

C+

Should have drafted Derwin James

Romulan78
Reply to  Bucsfan1983
3 years ago

Nope

DallasBucsFan
3 years ago

I love Vita as the pick. We need some more ass kickers on this team so we quit getting pushed around up the middle. Think of the possibilities. On known run downs – Vea, and Allen at Tackles, kick McCoy to Strongside end, with JPP on the weak side. This kid pushed the pocket as well as any Nose type player in a very long time (Ngata). He does what a 1st round pick should do, makes other around him better. He frees up McCoy and the D-line to deal with 1 on 1’s and the linebackers will have less… Read more »

DallasBucsFan
3 years ago

Unless you think Derwin James is the next coming of Sean Taylor, or Ed Reed, or Troy Polamalu (I don’t), then I think we made the right decision. Safeties are easier to find than giant human beings who can play (Thank you Bill Parcells for that philosophy). I think James will be a very good player, this is not me hating on him, but I think Vea makes the entire defense better, for reasons I already mentioned (some pass rush, collapsing the pocket, freeing up other D-Line, and clearing trash for the LBs to flow). He occupies 2 people every… Read more »

nitey
3 years ago

I totally agree with your reasoning. I love the pick of Vea and what it can do for the defensive line. Quarterbacks had far too much time to throw last season and I’m betting that will not be the case this year. A good DT > a good SS and Vea has the tools to be a great DT.

DallasBucsFan
3 years ago

Thanks Nitey. Just saying, do I think he is a 10 sack guy, absolutely not. But he may make it so GMC and JPP both are. He is going to reek havoc on interior lineman and who ever wants to single block GMC – no one. JPP and even Vinny Curry coming off the edge are going to be far more disruptive because of this choice. Again, he makes EVERYONE else on defense better.

BDOG
3 years ago

We have absolutely hit a grandslam on Vea as our #1. Agree with Ngata comparison, and if u havent seen him, look on youtube. If Vea does for us what Ngata does for Baltimore, our D-line will be fun to watch for years! I just believe if Cleveland pics Q. Nelson with 1st pick and Vita Vea at #4, wouldn’t they be better in long run? Better than a QB and DB, just seems they will remain in dungeon because its the BIG DUDES who make the difference. Anyhow, if you ever played the game, the D-line sets the tone… Read more »

FLBoy84
3 years ago

Another fun fact regarding the Ngata comparison, they were both picked at #12 12 years apart. Love the DL depth – JPP, Vea, McCoy, Curry, Spence, Allen, Unrein, Gholston. Not having to rely on legit reps from guys like Ward, Russell, O’Connor, Clarke or Lambert can only help the defensive performance, though some of those guys may surprise. Curious if Gholston might become trade bait if one of those guys steps up in training camp and preseason. Love the competition either way.

SenileSenior
3 years ago

People say things like “It all starts up front in the trenches.” or “Build your defense from the front to the back!”. These are not cliches but basic football ideas or principles. I am no great football mind so I try to think in basics. I think the choice of Vea was the right one. I won’t speculate on how good Vea is going to be during his career. (One hint is to take a look at his belly. He says he eats large quantities of food all of the time so is he just naturally a big, big man?… Read more »

scubog
3 years ago

It’s no surprise that some question the selection of Vita Vea at # 12 after trading down from # 7. Back in 1995 there were those who thought Sapp was a bad choice and we should have drafted Mamula. So now we come up with his girth being a problem with the Florida heat? There sure have been a lot of offensive linemen who are big men but never take a break as opposed to defensive linemen who are rotated. As I recall it’s a bit humid in Washington state and he did OK there. At the very least Coach… Read more »

Brandonges
3 years ago

A- is way too generous for a player who might just be a two down run stuffer. The trade down saved this from being a disastrous first round, but I also question the players we took with those second round picks. Better players, particularly Derwin James, were still on the board. I’d give the first round a C+

EastEndBoy
3 years ago

If we had no chance of getting one of the top-3 in the draft (because Indy and Denver wouldn’t trade), I like Vea as a good next alternative. He’ll be a player on our DL for a decade – that sounds pretty good. I don’t understand the constant talk of him replacing GMC some day….Vea is not a 3-tech, no matter how “athletic” people want to keep saying he is. His pass rush skills are nowhere near what an NFL 3-tech needs to have. No where near what GMC had coming out of OKL. And for anyone who thinks he… Read more »