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
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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
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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