Vea was dominant for the Huskies in 2017, but will his success translate to the NFL?
The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the eight weeks leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the defensive line positions. Today, we look at Vita Vea from the University of Washington.
As a true freshman, Vita Vea stepped into the Washington program and immediately received playing time. He finished the 2015 season with 17 tackles, one sack, and one forced fumble in 11 games.
Vea took a huge step forward in his sophomore year, where he earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors, despite only starting five games. He had 39 tackles, including 6.5 for a loss, and five sacks. He built off his success as a sophomore and had another solid season for the Huskies as a junior. Vea had 43 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks, which earned him Defensive Player of the Year honors in the Pac-12.
His impact on the Huskies’ defense during his three years at Washington were undeniable, which led to his decision to forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL draft.
Vea is one of the biggest defensive linemen in recent draft history. His 6‘4, 347-pound frame makes him very appealing to NFL teams in need of a big defensive tackle in the middle of their defensive line. His biggest strength is his ability to stop the run. Pro Football Focus had Vea graded as the fourth best defensive lineman in the draft in run-stop percentage and third with a 92 overall grade in run defense. He is going to be able to step onto any field from day one and use his big frame to help defend the run game, which is something almost any team could use to their benefit.
PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 4, 2018
Although one of Vea’s strengths is in the run game, that doesn’t mean he isn’t equally as good in the passing game. For a defensive lineman of his size, having nearly 10 sacks over his three years of limited play at Washington is very impressive. Of any interior defensive lineman in this draft, Vea posted the second most pressures on the quarterback during the 2017 season with 42.
Vea is also one of the most versatile defensive linemen in the draft. Last year he played over 100 snaps at three different positions on the defensive line (308 at defensive tackle, 116 at nose tackle, and 108 at defensive end). Defensive coordinators are desperate to get their hands on a player with this type of versatility because it allows them the flexibility to keep offenses on their toes because they don’t know where he will line up on any given play.
One of the main strengths of Vea’s is his big frame, but that also is to his detriment in certain situations. He doesn’t have the quickness to be a successful edge rusher in the NFL, which takes away from his versatility if he is drafted to a team in a 4-3 defense. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com detailed this in his potential concerns of Vea as an NFL player. He said that Vea struggles with his get off in pass rush situations and also doesn’t have great footwork or the balance needed when double teamed. This could cause teams to believe that Vea is only able to play in run situations, which would significantly hurt his draft stock.
Vea is going to be an impact player right away on whatever NFL team is lucky enough to get him. He won’t ever put up the flashy sack numbers that some defensive linemen do, but his impact on the game will be right up there with the top players in the league. His abilities compare very favorably to Haloti Ngata, who has a similar frame (6‘4”, 340 pounds), and that is the type of career Vea should have.
There are going to be a lot of teams that want Vea in the mid-to-late first round. The Miami Dolphins would be a great fit if they don’t select a quarterback because Vea could fill the void left by the departure of Ndamukong Suh. The New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders would also be good fits for Vea because both teams need help in run defense.
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