The Buccaneers’ 2018 rookie class certainly hasn’t burst onto the scene as quickly as everyone hoped back in April. By the end of draft weekend, Tampa Bay appeared to have a pretty solid class, one that would get an immediate chance to shine by the time the season came around. With year one nearing its end, it’s obvious that the good feelings have worn off. 2018 as a whole has been frustrating for the Bucs. The fact that the rookies have struggled to flash consistent potential hasn’t helped.
Of course, all hope isn’t lost. It’s only the first NFL season for these guys. Plus, some of them look to be improving each and every week. With that, let’s take a look at how the rookies performed in Sunday’s 20-12 loss to the Ravens.
DT Vita Vea
At one point this year, first-round pick Vita Vea was one of the most frustrating rookies of Tampa Bay’s 2018 class. These days, he is one guy that is showing consistent improvement that makes the future of the class feel just a little bit brighter. The big defensive tackle out of Washington continued to make his presence felt up the middle on Sunday, which was definitely needed due to Baltimore’s focus on running the ball. While the defense as a whole may not have been too impressive against the run, Vea certainly was. He finished the day with a career-high nine tackles (six solo), with many of them coming after minimal gains by the Ravens’ running backs. From The Athletic’s Greg Auman:
It's not hard to look things up. Ravens' gains on Vita Vea's 9 tackles today:— Greg Auman (@gregauman) December 17, 2018
1, 2, 2, 2, 5, 2, 5, 3, 0.
Works out to 2.4 yards per carry. Ravens averaged 4.9 for the game. https://t.co/t65AmLxZl2
There’s obviously a significant difference between 2.4 and 4.9 yards per carry. Vea did what he could to slow down the run game, which has always been a strength of his. Earlier this season, it felt like he was easing into the league after missing so much time with an injury. Nowadays, he is making a difference for the Tampa Bay defense, even if there aren’t too many other guys that are.
He is getting more snaps at this point in the season, as he was up to 60 on Sunday (79 percent of the defense’s total). That was the same number that veteran Gerald McCoy played. The big thing is, Vea is playing his best football of the season right now and that should be something he can build on heading into the offseason. The 23-year-old is turning into a solid player, regardless of the continued complaints about who else could have been selected at the No. 12 spot.
The best of the rest
Vea was the headliner of the rookie class in this week’s game, and there wasn’t really a close second... Second-rounder Ronald Jones II played just four snaps on offense (eight percent) and 12 on special teams (52 percent). He was targeted twice in the passing game, catching one of them for a loss of one. He had zero carries on the day... Second-round corner M.J. Stewart didn’t get any defensive snaps, but had 12 (52 percent) on special teams. He registered one tackle... Fellow second-round corner Carlton Davis played 52 snaps (68 percent) on defense and one (four percent) on special teams, racking up two tackles (both solo)... Third-rounder Alex Cappa got eight snaps (16 percent) on the offensive line and three (13 percent) on special teams... Fourth-round safety Jordan Whitehead played 47 snaps (62 percent) on defense, picking up three tackles (one solo)... Fifth-round wide receiver Justin Watson got two snaps (four percent) on offense and 16 (70 percent) on special teams. He was credited with one tackle.