Leading as much as the 2018 NFL Draft, Bucs fans were screaming from the rooftops for the team’s general manager, Jason Licht – who held the seventh overall pick – to draft the local, do-it-all safety prospect coming out of Florida State – Derwin James.
Shortly after the draft commenced, Licht ended up trading the seventh pick to Brandon Beane and the Buffalo Bills, in exchange for the tenth overall selection, and two additional second-round picks. Not a foul haul to maneuver back just five spots.
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So when Derwin James was still on the board when the Bucs were on the clock at 10, the Tampa fans became much more boisterous, hoping that their GM had his eyes on the massive, athletic, homegrown Seminole safety they’d been pleading for.
The Krewe didn’t get their wish though, because the Bucs passed on Derwin James to draft a 350-pound nose tackle out of the University of Washington by the name of Tevita Tuli’aki’ono Tuipolutu Mosese Va’hae Fehoko Faletau Vea. More commonly known as Vita Vea.
Despite their initial disappointment, it didn’t take long for Vita Vea to determine himself as a fan favorite in Tampa. He proved to be a plug-and-play, gap-stuffing interior defensive lineman with exceptional athleticism for a person his size.
The investment in Vea paid immediate dividends for the Bucs. He’s a player who has helped the Buccaneers’ defense turn a corner, because the team’s performance on that side of the ball has continued to enhance along the identical trajectory that he has continued to develop as a player.
Because of his overwhelming strength and power, Vea commands an automatic double-team every snap he plays. Which naturally opens up a variety of doors for his teammates along the defensive position. His value to the team extends far beyond his contributions within the boxscore. And although his teammates, coaches and fans would surely wish to see him play more snaps, and register more sacks, that is not likely what he does – neither is it the one technique to measure his effectiveness.
Coming off a brand recent 4-year, $71M contract, and his first pro bowl appearance, there isn’t any doubt that Vita Vea’s impact on the sphere has gained recognition league-wide.
The query is, how exactly does he stack up against the perfect of the perfect at his position?
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Despite being ranked as high as #3 on Fowler’s list previously, and #9 last 12 months (despite only playing in five regular-season games), Vea got here in because the seventh-best defensive tackle entering this season, based on Fowler. Here’s what he needed to say:
“Some voters label Vea a two-down player, more of a conventional nose tackle. And yes, his total of 581 snaps in 16 games last 12 months is taken into account low amongst top interior players, a lot of whom logged not less than 700. But Vea continues to be impactful anytime he takes the sphere.
“The way in which he can manhandle centers and may play on third down and be effective when fresh really impresses me,” said an NFC exec who voted him in the highest three. “I would not wish to go against him.”
“Vea logged 33 tackles and 4.5 sacks with a ten.5% pass rush win rate from the inside (sixteenth amongst defensive tackles) last 12 months. He has at all times been a stout run-stopper throughout his profession, too. His 38.8% run stop win rate since 2019 ranks him among the many top 15 defensive linemen.”
“He’s a top guy for me, and it isn’t that close,” an NFL scouting coordinator said. “He’s got raw power which you can’t teach.”
I’m sure some Bucs fans are surprised to see that Vea is not even higher on this list. The actual fact is, a lot of the defensive tackles listed above him offer a special approach to the position – one which involves pass rushing as a key aspect of their arsenal – versus Vea who operates as a more traditional nose tackle.
I would not be too salty though, because so long as he’s in a position to stay healthy, I think the contributions we have seen from Vea thus far in his profession represent absolutely the floor of his production. What he’s achieved thus far is repeatable, based on his size and power alone. As he continues to refine his approach as a pass rusher – and hopefully improve on his stamina – he still has loads of room to grow as an overall player.
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I would not be surprised if we see Vita Vea recognized as a top-5 defensive tackle on this list around this same time next 12 months. In actual fact, I expect it.