With the 12th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft acquired after trading with Buffalo, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a bit of a surprise selection and drafted mammoth Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea, who was featured in PewterReport.com’s second and third 2018 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Drafts earlier this offseason.
The reason why choosing Vea is an eye-opener is because Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht passed over defensive back Florida State strong safety Derwin James to draft a player where he already spent a lot of resources bolstering the team’s defensive line, adding nose tackle Beau Allen, versatile lineman Mitch Unrein, defensive end Vinny Curry and trading a third-round pick for defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
Not to mention the fact that the Bucs already have one of the best defensive tackles in the game in six-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy.
Yet McCoy turned 30 this offseason and his sack numbers have been in decline in each of the last three seasons, so Licht, who began doing his homework on Vea two years ago at a visit to Washington, needs to draft for the future at the three-technique position. And keep in mind that McCoy has a $13 million cap value for next year, which could be pricey for a 31-year old defensive tackle. Drafting a player who could be McCoy’s eventual replacement this year makes sense.
It also makes sense to keep adding talented defensive linemen, especially a year after the Bucs simply didn’t have enough up front. Tampa Bay had a league-low 22 sacks last year and Licht is determined to never allow that to happen again, which is why he took the top-rated defensive tackle on the board in Vea.
The loss of Clinton McDonald, who was second on the team in sacks with five last year, leaves the team thin at defensive tackle from a pass-rush standpoint behind McCoy. Who will provide the interior pass rush in Tampa Bay if McCoy, who has missed at least one game in each of the last four seasons, succumbs to another injury?
That’s where Vea comes in.
He is a physical freak at 6-foot-4, 347 pounds with tremendous movement ability, running a 5.10 in the 40-yard dash, and strength, benching 41 reps of 225 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine. Vea has the skill set to make a huge impact on the Bucs’ pass rusher despite only having 9.5 sacks in his three years with the Huskies.
That’s because Vea is a hulk that can toss aside guards like rag dolls to rush the passer, and sends quarterbacks running for their lives and often into the waiting arms of defensive ends and blitzing linebackers. At the Senior Bowl PewterReport.com spoke with Washington State quarterback Luke Falk, who Vea terrorized for years in college.
“That guy – you watch him on film and you understand how good he is, and then you play him and you realize he’s even better than you thought,” Falk said. “Their game plan was really, rush three and drop eight into coverage. Vita made it feel like we were getting rushed by six guys. He’s an incredible player and I have nothing but respect for him. I think he’s going to be great in the NFL. He’s special. You don’t find guys like him that can move like he does. It’s only once in a long while that you see guys like him.”
Cole Madison, one of the Cougars linemen charged with the responsibility of protecting Falk, talked about the challenge he faced going against Vea in Washington’s 42-14 rout of Washington State. Falk threw three interceptions, fumbled once and was sacked five times. Vea had half a sack.
“He’s a force,” said Madison. “He’s a big guy that can move really well. He’s unbelievably strong. Whenever you went against him you had to really man up. He’s a really good player. I respect him a lot.
“The first play of our game he lined up as a five technique, so I had to block him right away. Throughout the game he moved around all over the place. That’s how good he is and how versatile of a player he is.”
Vea is not just a space-eating nose tackle. He’s not Vince Wilfork, or Danny Shelton, a former Washington nose tackle that was drafted 12th overall by Cleveland. Vea can play the nose tackle spot in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense, a 4-3 three-tech spot like Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy plays, or even the five-tech defensive end position in a 3-4 scheme.
PewterReport.com spoke with Huskies defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake, who was a former defensive backs coach in Tampa Bay under Jon Gruden and Raheem Morris, for some insight prior to the draft.
“Vita is a freak athlete,” Lake said. “6-foot-4 and change, and 340 pounds does not grow on trees, and with how athletic he is, I think he’s a top 5 player due to the way he plays and how fast he plays. He’s so big. He’s hard to move. He plays with his hands. He’s physical and he’s fast, too.
“We clocked him at running 20 miles per hour chasing down a screen against USC. We had him in one of those Catapult vests you put on the players, and he was running 20 miles per hour chasing down a screen. That’s 340 pounds really moving. On top of all that he is an unbelievable person.
“He’s a great teammate. There are no red flags with this guy at all. I was here with Danny Shelton, who ended up going top 12 overall to the Cleveland Browns, and this is a bigger and more athletic version than him. If Danny was No. 12, this guy should be No. 5 in my opinion.”
The Bucs ran a 4-3 base defense last year, but also sprinkled in a good deal of 3-4 defense and 3-3-5 defense in nickel situations. If Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Mike Smith continues experimenting with a 3-4 front or at least continuing to be multiple with his defensive schemes, Vea would allow the Bucs to quite flexible with their alignments.
“We are a multiple front and he’ll play the three technique, which Gerald plays, he’ll play a straight up zero technique over the center in our 3-4,” Lake said. “Shoot, we’ve had him play our end, and rush a tackle and come inside. He’s very, very smart and he’s so athletic. It just depends on what the team is doing schematically. I think he can play in a 3-4 or a 4-3 front.”