The Bucs drafted Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea (VAY-uh) last night with the 12th overall pick, trading down with the Buffalo Bills.
So what kind of player are the Bucs getting? Vea is a brute-force type player; he is a two-gapping nose tackle who wins with pure strength and size (Vea is 347 pounds!), and he moves extremely well for someone of his enormous size. He doesn’t win with finesse and technique - he is here to clobber offensive lineman for four quarters:
vita vea, good football player pic.twitter.com/gC8DaACWyK— charles mcdonald (a guy at the airport) (@FourVerts) December 2, 2016
He is also generally extremely difficult to move as he is excellent anchoring against the run. He is limited as a pass rusher and he won’t be a guy you can use on a stunt often but does have a dominant bull rush and a hump move that was made famous by Reggie White.
The Bucs like to hybrid gap with four down linemen. Last season in an effort to fix the pass rush the Bucs resorted to using McCoy to two-gap and eat blocks in the hope that other players could win their matchups one-on-one. They couldn’t. Vea is here to rectify that. He will eat blocks and clog the lane and allow McCoy to do what he does best. GM Jason Licht is hoping to overwhelm offensive linemen by using Vea to do the dirty work so Jason Pierre-Paul, McCoy, and Vinny Curry can be free to do their thing. He picked up Beau Allen and has Stevie Tu’ikolovatu to rotate with Vea.
But there are also significant questions about Vea’s game. He can be the last one off the snap, and he times the snap rather than using a natural explosion. His base and footwork needs a lot of work as he can be caught off-balance and blown off the ball by double-teams. He has heavy violent hands but his hand technique needs work, as does his pad level. It’s one thing to physically dominate your opponent in college, but the quality of offensive linemen he will see in the NFL is far superior than what he faced in the Pac-12. He will need to improve his technique in all areas of his game if he wants to be dominant in the NFL. Perhaps most importantly Vea didn’t improve from 2016 to 2017 as much as you’d like to see. Early on expect Vea to only be a two-down player for the Bucs until he proves otherwise. Still, Vea’s potential is as large as he is and that’s worth something. The Bucs clearly believe he can be a good pass rusher because he’s not worth the 12th pick otherwise.
Vea also raises questions about whether the Bucs will move to a 3-4 front. This staff is widely considered to be on the hot seat, and not many coaches run fronts similar to Mike Smith. Even if they don’t switch, there are legitimate questions about taking a nose tackle in the top-15. The NFL is a passing league and puts a premium on rushing the passer - stopping the run isn’t nearly as valuable as it used to be. Even if Vea helps other players rush the passer his limitations as a pass rusher himself may not have been worth the 12th pick. New defensive line coach Brentson Buckner is getting a rough-cut stone and we’ll see if he can turn Vea into a gem. There are no more excuses for Mike Smith; he has all the pieces he needs for the multiple front he’s been trying to build since before he was fired by the Atlanta Falcons.
Grade: I thought there were better players on the board, but I completely understand the Bucs’ thought process behind taking Vea. If Vea turns into a consistent player with a reliable pass rush the Bucs will be a force up front. But Vea isn’t that player right now.
However, this grade won’t be complete without recognizing how it came to be. The Bucs didn’t just draft Vea, they traded down with the Bills to do it and in the process fleeced them for the 53rd and 56th overall picks in the draft. That gives the Bucs three picks in the 2nd round. If the Bucs don’t package them to move back up (and they shouldn’t), the Bucs will have four picks in the top 56. Since the Draft is a lottery the Bucs are in prime position to walk away with at least two and likely three (and maybe more) high-quality starters and have plenty of needs at RB, CB, and OG. That’s significant and Licht should be commended for maximizing the Board’s value last night.