Vita Vea Might Be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' MVP

Vita Vea Might Be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' MVP

- in Football

In an era where N.F.L. players coordinate their accessories to the smallest of details, Vita Vea stands out. Unlike his peers who adorn their arms with colorful sleeves or equip their helmets with tinted visors, the defensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers takes a minimalist approach.

On game days, Vea goes bare-armed and glove-less in battles against offensive linemen. At 6-foot-4 and 347 pounds, he uses his massive frame at will against guards and centers, shoving them behind the line of scrimmage into quarterbacks’ laps as if they were rag dolls.

“It just became a habit,” Vea said of the practice, which began with college teammates at Washington. “If I did wear gloves, I would just feel restricted.”

Choose any Bucs game this season — the opener against the Dallas Cowboys, their demolition of the Atlanta Falcons or a narrow victory over the New England Patriots — and there is footage of Vea forcibly moving another grown man from one area to another.

That production does not create distinctive statistics: In four games, Vea has only seven tackles and has yet to record a sack. But the havoc an elite interior lineman causes by attracting double teams and clogging gaps often provides their teammates clear paths to ball carriers and quarterbacks, for the stats that garner paydays and hardware.

What Vea excels at, and the outsized effect it has on a Bucs defense that ranks first in the league in rushing defense, can go unrecognized by casual observers. To the coaches and players who study him, though, his value is clear.

“He is one of the best players in this league,” Rams Coach Sean McVay said. He added, “He’s such a large individual that has such good ability, such good movement. He’s a problem. He’s a real problem.”

The defensive line’s interior has always been an important, but unrecognized, unglamorous position. Before 2017, the last defensive tackle to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award was Warren Sapp in 1999. The Rams’ Aaron Donald won it in 2017, 2019 and 2020, but he is viewed as an outlier to a traditional interior lineman because of his abnormal power and speed despite being undersized compared to peers.

Today, the 10 highest-paid edge rushers average about $3 million more annually than the 10 highest-paid defensive tackles, according to

Against the Rams, Vea personally prevented two potential touchdown throws to DeSean Jackson. In the first quarter, with the Rams facing a third-and-10 from their 38-yard line, Vea bulldozed left guard David Edwards (308 pounds) into the pocket, causing Matthew Stafford to hurry his throw. It sailed short of Jackson, who was a step ahead of a safety downfield. In the second quarter, he fought through a double team from Edwards and center Brian Allen (303 pounds), prompting Stafford to again miss an open Jackson.

In those moments, Vea said, he does not realize the amount of force he’s exerting on another very large human being.

“I got to make the play,” Vea said. “That’s the only thing on my mind. I have to be destructive. I have to help out in some type of way.”

With Vea plugging holes and rearranging offensive lines, opponents have now focused their pass attacks on the Bucs’ young secondary, which has a bevy of key starters injured. Opponents average 47 passing attempts per game and the Bucs have allowed 1,310 yards, the worst in the N.F.L., prompting Tampa Bay to add veteran cornerback Richard Sherman.

To compensate for a position group in flux, more onus is on Tampa Bay’s pass rush to reach opposing quarterbacks. That includes Vea, who Coach Bruce Arians said can be even better than he has been.

“I’d just like to see him finish more because he’s been close about eight or nine times,” Arians added. “He’s one of those guys that could have multi-sack games. He’s getting close, he’s getting better.”

If Arians is right, Vea could be about to barrel his way out of the shadows.

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