He’ll never get the stats of an Aaron Donald, nor a Chris Jones, but Vita Vea is the NFL‘s next great defensive tackle. The mammoth interior linemen was the only defensive player worth talking about after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers survived a shootout to beat the Dallas Cowboys 31-29 on opening night of the 2021 NFL season.
Vea showcased his potential to dominate for the next decade by routinely mauling Cowboys’ offensive linemen. He filled running lanes, absorbed double teams, drew penalties and shoved blockers back into Dak Prescott. It was all in a night’s work for the 347-pounder who makes Tampa’s rugged defense tick.
Vita Vea vs Dallas Cowboys – Week 1
It was a far cry from 2020 when Vea missed 13 games. He risked being forgotten among a crowded rotation also featuring Nadmukong Suh, William Gholston, Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Steve McLendon, who played for Bucs’ defensive coordinator Todd Bowles with the New York Jets.
Fortunately, Vea was healthy again in time to face the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game, then the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. He made sure nobody will forget his name by underpinning a smothering defense that made both Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes look ordinary.
Vea picked up where he left off by destroying the Cowboys’ protection schemes. Of his many victims, center Tyler Biadasz is likely to be scarred for life after being tossed around like a rag doll in front of a global audience in awe of Vea’s power and explosiveness.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) September 10, 2021
Left guard Connor McGovern committed two critical holding penalties, one against Vea. It should have been two, but officials missed McGovern’s desperate attempt to corral an opponent he simply couldn’t handle.
If you're upset about the uncalled OPI, then you should be equally mad this obvious hold wasn't called against Vita Vea on the play that got Dallas into FG range pic.twitter.com/kCCv1uJSNv
— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) September 10, 2021
You have to have some sympathy for Biadasz and McGovern. Not many O-linemen will handle Vea this season. He’s a massive man who can move like a nimble athlete half his size. The only difficult task for Tampa Bay’s coaches is finding new and innovative ways to use Vea.
Bowles, head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich all had fun putting Vea into positions to succeed on Thursday night. His remit included playing some offense as a lead-blocker for Leonard Fournette on a key third-down run. Flexible defensive tackles often find short-yardage work. Vea can become a scoring threat in his own right, just like William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry in the eighties.
A better, more recent comparison is Haloti Ngata. The former Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions‘ star was the anchor of every defensive front in which he featured. Ngata had the mass and versatility to disrupt an offense from multiple spots, something Vea is beginning to learn.
Bowles is moving the 26-year-old around the line of scrimmage to create mismatches against both the run and pass. The Buccaneers’ first pressure call of the night saw Vea slide to the edge, where he bulldozed outstanding left tackle Tyron Smith back into Prescott’s lap to force an incompletion.
— ᑭᖇO ᖴOOTᗷᗩᒪᒪ ᒍOᑌᖇᑎᗩᒪ 🏈 (@NFL_Journal) September 10, 2021
This is a play only special defensive linemen make, and Vea already belongs in that bracket. He’ll be the X-factor Bowles uses to target weak blockers and take away opponents’ tendencies.