Vita Vea doesn’t resemble your modern nose tackle.
Large, sure, that would be an understatement of Vea’s 6-foot-4, 347-pound frame, but it’s the modern, enticing uniform accessories Vea ignores in his garb that presents a throwback bare frame of jersey and helmet to opposing lineman. No gloves, no wrist or ankle tape, Vea is all about ball, quickly becoming the anchor of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ three-man front. While his plain jane approach in his threads is unique in and of itself in a day in age where players have looked to diversify themselves in any way possible, his skill set and dominance along the interior has become the straw that stirs the drink of Tampa’s impressive front seven.
The No. 12 overall selection in 2018, Vea entered the league with massive hype toward his projection as a member of the Buccaneers interior. Long story short, don’t let his 5.5 sacks combined in his first two seasons sway you away from the impact Vea has provided. When diving into the film, or simply watching any Buccaneers game, it’s easy to spot No. 50 plowing through opposing linemen’s chests week in and week out.
In 2020, Vea played a crucial role on the Buccaneers' way to a Super Bowl LV title. Following his return from a fractured ankle against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game, Vea played 46% (NFC Championship) and 41% (Super Bowl) of the snaps, respectively, clogging up the interior, allowing the likes of Lavonte David and Devin White to feast on opposing signal-callers and ball-carriers. The usage of his herculean strength from his lower half to his hands presents a nearly unblockable force for opposing offenses to counter. And if coordinators attempt to abide by the old adage of “just run around him,” you’d soon find out that doesn’t work either.
Nose tackle isn’t exactly the most glamorous position on the gridiron, but in Todd Bowles’ defense, it’s an ever-important role Vea fits to a T. The job description historically involves the words “space-eater.” Essentially, the nose tackle exists to free everyone else up to run around and make plays. Even some of the best nose tackles we’ve seen in recent years — Pat Williams, Vince Wilfork — weren’t the center of attention on their teams. But Vea presents an entirely different toolbox of pass-rush savvy and dominance in the run game than the aforementioned interior cogs.
Nearly 350 pounds, a human should not move the way Vea does.
Cowboys center Tyler Biadasz is 314 pounds… Vea threw him out of the club here with a vicious hump move to lift Biadasz off his feet, out of the play, and into a penalty that wasn’t called. Following his performance in Week 1, Biadasz was Dallas’ worst-graded offensive lineman, allowing seven pressures, five hurries, and two QB hits, primarily lined up opposite of Vea.
Once again lined up across from Biadasz, Vea manhandles his way into the backfield and into Dak Prescott’s lap, forcing the Cowboys quarterback to escape outside of the pocket. Transferring power to speed, Vea controls Biadasz from the onset of the snap, driving him back four yards before releasing in an attempt to wrangle down Prescott. In what looked to be an easy pitch and catch to Blake Jarwin up the seam, Vea’s immediate pressure forced Prescott outside of structure.
Additionally, look how quick he is to turn his body and sprint toward Prescott after he escapes… that’s not human. A man as large as Vea should not have the bend and turn radius he does in space.
According to Next Gen Stats, Vea had the best pressure rate of any Buccaneer pass-rusher on Thursday night. He was credited with a pressure on six of his 33 pass rushes, for a rate of 18.2%. For context, Shaq Barrett was next with five pressures on 36 rushes for a rate of 13.9%. It’s hard to truly measure the impact of a nose tackle at times, but when Vea was on the field last year prior to his injury, Tampa’s sack rate jumped from 5.9% to 10.5%. That’s a massive jump considering the aforementioned names surrounding Vea, a seemingly impossible fortress to defend on Sunday.
Vea has truly become one of one as an interior defender. While his stats may sometimes hide from the box score, his presence, punch, and elite power to forklift linemen week in and week out deserves much more attention within one of the league’s most impressive defensive fronts. Still just 26 years old with minimal wear and tear considering his prior injuries, Vea is seemingly just scratching the surface of his true capability.