The Buccaneers number one pick this year has been highly scrutinized by many Buccaneer fans since being selected, some fair and some seemingly stretched critiques. An in depth view of Vea seems to be a great way to bridge the gap and get down to the reality of the situation and most importantly, why the selection will help in more ways than one for this defense. Before we focus in on Vea, here’s a good synopsis of what to potentially expect to see from the unit as a whole from Bucs Nation’s own Alex Salvarezza. Let’s take a look at what Vea can do, and should do, as arguably the third best option on the defensive line to wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines behind Gerald McCoy and Jason Pierre-Paul after a quick refresher on who McCoy has had as running mates the last few seasons.
Gerald McCoy has had little to no pass rush help alongside him since being drafted. A season ago the team brought in Chris Baker who aside from a 6-sack season, has been a run plugging tackle and proved to be worthless as a potential running mate for Gerald. Baker added a whopping 0.5 sacks to the defensive line a year ago. Along with Chris Baker, the Buccaneers had Clinton McDonald who had his best year as a Buccaneer as a 30 year old playing 14 games and garnering 5 sacks. Those 5 sacks are the tops a defensive tackle has stacked up alongside McCoy over the last three seasons. The gold standard to that point has been roughly 3 sacks out of Gerald’s running mates, far from desirable considering the amount of one on ones the nose tackle has had since McCoy entered the league. Prior to McDonald’s arrival and emergence in 2016 as a healthy defensive tackle, the team relied on Akeem Spence to stop the run and provide some pass rush. Spence racked up 8.5 sacks... in 72 games. To be fair, Spence was never thought of or expected to be a pass rusher but none the less, the number is abysmal. The team also tried out oft injured Henry Melton, a former Bear under Lovie Smith who struggled to be 100% and failed to provide the pass rush his athleticism once provided in his early career. The team has tried it all from a veteran standpoint but this year with Jason Licht the team finally decided to go get a young athletic high round draft pick to pair up with McCoy. So what can Vea do that the others couldn’t?
For starters, Vea’s sheer size and quickness at this size will cause problems for offensive guards in one on one situations, something Vea should see plenty of thanks to Gerald McCoy. It will be imperative for Vea to capitalize often on these opportunities when they arrive as he did at Washington. I am going under the assumption that Beau Allen will rotate in and out series with Vea in order to keep the 347 lb behemoth at full tilt late into games. Assuming this to be true, at least early on, Vea should be able to replicate some of the dominate play he showed at Washington, such as the one here where he bull rushes the guard and drives him straight back into the pocket where he lands the sack.
If Vea can put together some efforts such as the one above early on, his impact will go far beyond that of a run stuffing nose tackle. Vea winning one on ones and playing the run well will go a long ways toward helping free up Gerald McCoy and Jason Pierre-Paul as the games and season go on. Should Vea earn the respect from opposing teams offensive coordinators, he may soon see some extra help thrown his way to combat the massive girth and quickness he brings to the table. This is where Vea will have to prove his worth as a top 15 selection in the draft. At Washington, Vea was regularly double teams and few games showed this as much as the UCLA match-up for Vea. Below you will see Vea explode off the line and get into the inside of the tackle and guard where he continues to power his way to the quarterback. This is what the team and fans alike want to see out of their first round pick.
Another area Vea may see some big usage and be relied upon a good bit is when the team switches it’s look to an odd man front. Vea is a big nose tackle and has been compared to Dontari Poe on many occasions this draft season. With those comparisons come the understanding that the Buccaneers will likely run some more 3-4 to get the most out of their 347 lb nose tackle. Vea’s style is far more suited for these looks than Gerald McCoy is as an interior tackle. Should the team wish to go to 3 down lineman and rush with outside linebackers, McCoy could move to 3-4 end in sub-packages with Vea in the middle. Below, you will see Vea again destroy the offensive line in this play where it’s 3 on 5 in the trenches as Vea takes out the center and guard.
When you take a step back and look at what the Buccaneers have around Vita Vea already it allows you to open your eyes and possibly see the future a bit better. If Noah Spence comes back healthy and stays on the field this season, there’s reason to believe that the team has potentially three players with near double digit sack potential in McCoy, JPP and Spence. Vinny Curry will likely start at the opposite defensive end spot and is a 4-6 sack guy at best but it’s when you mix all of the players together, it starts looking like a quite potent line. Vea has a chance to show off some extra pass rush thanks to one on ones that he otherwise didn’t get to see much of at UCLA. Throw in the fact he’ll be rotating and not asked to play a heavy load in all likelihood and there’s reason to believe he’ll be able to give more on a play to play basis. If he does that then there is little reason to believe he can’t make his biggest impact to the team as a pass rusher over run stuffer.
We’ve spent a good bit of this piece on Vea’s potential as a pass rusher above and now it’s time to bring it back to why he ultimately was brought in and that’s to help one of the leagues worst run defenses. Vea is a huge body and it’s tough to move that amount of man for a four quarter NFL game. Vea, Beau Allen, Vinny Curry and Jason Pierre-Paul will all contribute to a better run stopping defense just by the sheer fact that they are better than who they are replacing. Vita Vea on his own should do a number to stopping interior run lanes and this should lead to some revitalization of Lavonte David from a numbers standpoint. The game plan is no longer working to funnel would be ball carriers to David, but Vea’s presence should keep lineman out of the second level and that will allow David to roam more freely alongside Kwon Alexander.
While we are here, one last thing that should be touched upon is how Vea and the other off-season additions should and will effect the secondary. There is a strong condigency of Buccaneer fans who feel that the Buccaneers and Jason Licht screwed up in passing on Derwin James. Rather than debate between Vea and James, the debate should really be about where games are won... and that is in the trenches. The team put to rest any doubt that they feel that way as a coaching staff and front office with all of the additions to the defensive line. Pressure up front must come before coverage in the back. Pressure and more importantly sacks will save far more games than good coverage will. In a division with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, it’s far more imperative for a defense to get to the quarterback with the front four than it is to try and cover receivers longer. With the team also moving to more 3-4 looks a year ago, it is without a doubt for myself after taking a step back and looking at the facts presented both up front and between the lines looking at play calling that the Buccaneers needed help against the run, a 3-4 nose and some more pressure from the line. Vea helps in all three aspects right now. Time will ultimately tell, but for now I can say with certainty that the team has the right method in mind.