The reconstruction of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive line continued on Thursday night…in a big way.
After trading down from the seventh pick to #12, the Buccaneers selected Vita Vea, a 6-4, 347-pound defensive tackle from Washington with enormous strength and the nimble feet of a much smaller man. Vea gives the Buccaneers a potentially dominant interior-line rotation, mixing in with six-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy and prized free agency acquisition Beau Allen.
Even better, the process that led to Vea's selection gave the Buccaneers an opportunity to address several other positions with high picks. Originally scheduled to pick seventh overall, the Buccaneers traded with the Buffalo Bills, moving down to #12 and acquiring picks #53 and 56 in the second round. Tampa Bay also included its seventh-round compensatory pick, #255, in the deal.
Vea is the latest addition to the Bucs' revamped defensive line, joining Allen, free agent signees Vinny Curry and Mitch Unrein and trade acquisition Jason Pierre-Paul. Add in 2016 second-round pick Noah Spence, who lost much of last year to a shoulder injury but had 5.5 sacks as a rookie, William Gholston and Will Clarke and the Bucs could have a front-line rotation that runs eight or nine players deep. That's a formula that worked quite well last year for the Philadelphia Eagles, from whom the Buccaneers nabbed Allen and Curry.
Specifically the middle of the Bucs' defense becomes much more stout with Vea in the mix. Vea's strength was on display at the NFL Scouting Combine when he managed 41 reps in the bench press drill; only Stanford defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, with 42, had more. His size and power would be a fit in a traditional nose-tackle role and would help a Buccaneers' run defense that allowed 117.5 yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry in 2017.
However, there is more to Vea's game than power. A high school running back (and defensive lineman), he ran a 5.1 40-yard dash at the Combine and can provide the type of up-the-middle pressure that is most disruptive to quarterbacks. That could be particularly difficult for opposing offensive linemen when Vea is combining his rush with that of McCoy, who has averaged nearly eight sacks per season over the last five years. Some of the peripheral stats from Vea's college career hint at his athleticism – he had a 17-yard run last season, as well as a blocked punt.
Vea's traditional statistics are impressive enough. Over the past two seasons, during which he appeared in 27 games and started 18 of them, he racked up 83 tackles, 8.5, 12 tackles for loss, six passes defensed and a forced fumble. As a reserve in the Huskies' rotation in his redshirt freshman season, Vea recorded 17 tackles, one sack, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
This marks the fifth time in 43 drafts that the Buccaneers have selected a defensive tackle in the opening round, and the team's track record in that regard is quite good. McCoy, the third-overall selection in 2010, is one of the top players at his position this decade and 48.5 sacks to go with his six consecutive Pro Bowl invite. Warren Sapp, nabbed with the 12th pick in 1995, is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Neither Marcus Jones (the 22nd pick in 1996) nor Anthony McFarland (the 15th pick in 1999) reached the same heights as Sapp or McCoy, but Jones had 23 sacks over a three-season stretch after switching to end and McFarland was a starter for Super Bowl teams in Tampa and Indianapolis.
Vea was the first defensive tackle selected in this year's draft and the fifth defender overall. The Buccaneers found another potentially dominant piece for their defense on the first night of the three-day draft, and picked several valuable Day Two picks in the process.