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Why the Buccaneers picked DT Vita Vea in the 2018 NFL Draft

Vea is a freak athlete for a mountain-sized human. Can he translate those skills to the NFL?

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Penn State vs Washington Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Vita Vea is one of the most impressive specimens at the 2018 NFL Draft. The Washington defensive tackle is a 340-pounder who tosses offensive linemen like practice dummies and ruins blocking schemes with impunity.

And now he’s a Buccaneer.

Tampa Bay selected the behemoth defensive lineman 12th in the first round Thursday night, adding a run-stopping, pass-rushing threat to the middle of its defensive line. The swift-footed Husky is a nightmare matchup who demonstrated a wide array of blocker-demolishing moves in his season-and-a-half at Washington. He’ll have to prove he’s more than just the sum of some very impressive parts to live up to his potential in the NFL — and now he can buy his family a house like he planned once he got drafted.

What makes Vita Vea worthy of the 12th pick?

Vea’s numbers don’t show it, but he can crumble pockets from the inside-out. As SB Nation’s (and former NFL defensive lineman) Stephen White points out, his ability to occupy blockers and reshape offensive lines may not have earned him big sack numbers but often benefited his teammates.

He explodes at the snap to drive into the backfield, and his combination of first-step quickness and strength will ensure a steady diet of double-teams in the NFL. He moves delightfully smoothly for a man pushing 350 pounds, which is useful not just for terrifying quarterbacks but for chasing down runners from behind — something he did with surprising success at UW.

His size helps make him a black hole against the run. Moving Vea out of the middle of the field takes work and is often a two-man job, so his presence could be enough to convince opposing offenses to run off-tackle instead of up the gut. The big tackle’s combination of arm length and core strength give him a great punch up front or just the power to bulldoze guards with a bullrush.

In summary, White couldn’t be more effusive in his praise:

I have to say he is the second-most physically dominant interior defensive lineman I have ever broken down, behind Aaron Donald. I watched four games of Vea kicking ass and taking names and I didn’t need to see another down to make that assessment.

Why could Vea struggle in the NFL?

For all his size and strength, Vea is still a raw professional prospect whose total output at Washington fails to give off “game-changer” vibes. He averaged fewer than three tackles per game and tallied 15 tackles for loss in his three seasons with the Huskies. For comparison’s sake, Maurice Hurst, another defensive tackle with a first round grade, had 13 TFLs in 2017 alone.

That rawness shows in his footwork. While he’s able to react quickly and change directions with fluidity, he also tends to overextend himself and throw his center of gravity too far past his feet, leading to too many trips to the turf. Playing against a class of stronger, bigger, and faster offensive linemen will exploit that weakness, especially if he gets overzealous with his punch moves.

Still, these are correctable problems. The fact remains he’s a brute with tremendous quickness and the strength to put every ounce of his 350-pound frame to work. He’s still got a ways to go, but Vea’s ceiling is as an All-Pro defensive tackle — and he could be one of 2018’s best draft values.