Browns draft profile: Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea
By Thomas Moore
The Cleveland Browns could use another difference maker on the defensive line, which is why the team might take a close look at Washington’s Vita Vea.
The Cleveland Browns have made a solid investment in the defensive line the past two seasons.
The club selected defensive ends Emmanuel Ogbah in the second round and Carl Nassib in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft, and then went all in last year with defensive end Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, along with defensive tackles Larry Ogunjobi (third round) and Caleb Brantley (sixth round).
That young nucleus showed promise last season, especially in the run game as the Browns finished second in the NFL by allowing just 3.3 yards per carry. Despite that success, the defense still struggled to stop the pass, finishing the season with just 34 sacks and allowing 28 touchdowns, which ranked 26th in the league.
When healthy, Garrett and Ogbah can be a terror on opposing quarterbacks. Ogunjobi and Brantley flashed at times last season, but the defensive line could use another disrupter, especially at the defensive tackle position.
Related: Browns draft profile: Maurice Hurst
One option could be Michigan’s Maurice Hurst, but a bigger (and possibly better) one could come in the form of Washington’s Vita Vea.
Vea, who is 6-foot-5 and 340 pounds, may remind fans of former Browns defensive tackle Danny Shelton, who preceded Vea at Washington. But Vea was versatile enough with the Huskies that the defensive coaches played him all across the defensive line, which makes him an intriguing prospect.
During his final season with the Huskies, Vea was voted the Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year after finishing with 44 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. His ability to tie up blockers helped Washington’s defense finish the season tied as the nation’s third-best in yards allowed per play at 4.42. (Of course, Shelton had a similar impact on the Browns defense and there were still people who labeled him a bust, so maybe Vea’s skills would not be appreciated in Cleveland.)
If the Browns have questions about Vea’s impact on the game, they could spend some time talking with UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, who has first-hand knowledge:
While Pro Football Focus has Vea ranked as the second-best interior lineman in the draft class, they do raise questions about his ability to be more than a one-dimensional player:
"The evaluation of Vea is as much about value as it is about talent. There’s no denying that he could step in and be a force at nose tackle from day one, but how much will he offer as a pass-rusher and how many snaps can he play? He’s only played over 50 percent of his team’s snaps in one season in college. It’s going to be tough to get first-round value if he can only be a two-down player in the NFL."
Of course, with defensive ends Garrett and Ogbah bringing the heat, having Vea as a dominant run stuffer in the middle of the line could be enough. He is also quick enough that if opposing offense are occupied with Garrett and Ogbah, Vea could make life rough for the quarterback, given the opportunity.
Vea is being projected as a perfect fit for a team that primarily employs a 3-4 defense, but as Shelton proved last season, talented nose tackles can transition into a defense tackle position in a 4-3 alignment. And there is no doubt that Vea is talented.
Next: Browns draft profile: Penn State's Mike Gesicki
The Browns will likely not consider taking Vea with the No. 4 overall selection, but general manager John Dorsey decides to trade out of the spot, Vea could be in play later in the first round.