In today’s NFL, many are quick to dismiss the impact of the nose tackle. You want as many stat-sheet-stuffing pass rushers as possible, so they say.
Well, one particularly large man is looking to dispel that notion, and he wears No. 50 for the Buccaneers. He’s 26, he’s 350 pounds, and he keeps a glorious mane that probably makes Troy Polamalu fear a little bit for his Head & Shoulders sponsorship.
You all know we’re discussing Tevita Tuliʻakiʻono Tuipulotu Mosese Vaʻhae Fehoko Faletau Vea, or just Vita Vea. I will never pass up an opportunity to use his full name, he’s earned that honor.
The former first-round pick will never appear in leaders of major categories like sacks or tackles, but Vea is doing the dirty, unheralded work that his position often demands. And, unlike many others, he does that work so well that he is starting to get the attention he deserves as an elite disruptor.
The Polynesian Powerhouse first gained traction last year but found his breakout season cut short by a fractured ankle in Week 5 against the Bears. Basically everyone assumed that we’d all see him again in 2021, and they were right. What everyone was wrong about was how early we’d see him in 2021.
Vea miraculously rehabbed and worked out well enough to be activated for the Bucs’ tilt against the Green Bay Packers, and he made a world of difference as he clogged up the interior several times and helped Tampa’s edge rushers and linebackers create havoc. He then bullied a disheveled Chiefs interior line en route to a dominant Super Bowl win.
It’s really not debatable. When Vea is on the field, the Bucs are a notably better football team.
And he picked up right where left off in the Week 1 opener, as he started bullying the Cowboys’ center and guards down the stretch when Dallas needed to deviate from a gameplan that mostly involved short, quick passes. His highlight play that sent Twitter into a frenzy was when he bulldozed Tyler Biadasz into the Raymond James parking lot.
can't imagine how humbling it is to be a real live nfl offensive lineman and vita vea treats you like you're 14 years old.— bomani (@bomani_jones) September 10, 2021
Vea produced the best pressure rate of any Buccaneer pass rusher against Dallas. Next Gen Stats credited him with a pressure on six of his 33 pass rushes, for a rate of 18.2%. By comparison, Shaq Barrett mustered a rate of 13.9% on just three rushes more.
Conversely, it’s not a coincidence that Biadasz was Dallas’s worst-graded lineman per Pro Football Focus. The second-year center drew Vea a majority of the time and got knocked for seven pressures, five hurries, and two QB hits.
So when considering what Vea did to fairly solid competition, one might find themselves excited to consider his potential against Tampa’s next opponent: the Atlanta Falcons, who had some...struggles in their season debut. First, let’s look at the below image, which should sum up the situation nicely without me having to talk a lot.
Their opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles, committed horrific atrocities against an overwhelmed offensive line and basically ruined Matt Ryan’s life. There should be jail time...for Ryan’s teammates, not Fletcher Cox and Co.
“Just” three sacks on the day is a deceiving statistic, as Ryan felt pressure on more than 40% of his dropbacks. The Falcons also found little meaningful success on the ground. According to PFF, center Matt Hennessey posted a pass blocking grade of 20 (out of 100), and rookie guard Jalen Mayfield earned a grade of 1.4. One period four.
It would be shocking if Vea didn’t take over this game in all aspects with his superior strength and freaky quickness against players who clearly are not ready for the season. Issues like Atlanta’s are not largely corrected in less than a week, and the Bucs have benefited from a mini-bye thanks to playing on Sept. 9.
With freshness, confidence, and superior talent all on the home side, Vea’s potential domination would massively help the Buccaneers rack up an early victory in the division standings.