TAMPA, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are intent on building a defense capable of helping quarterback Jameis Winston end the team’s long playoff drought.
Tackle Vita Vea is the latest addition to a reconstructed unit that’s been a liability for most of the past decade, joining the Bucs as the 12th overall pick in the opening round of the NFL draft on Thursday night.
General manager Jason Licht described the 6-foot-4, 347-pound Vea as a dominant run-stopper who has “freakish athleticism” for his size.
“He’s going to help us in a lot of areas,” Licht said. “Great kid. … Very tough and loves football. We think he’s going to be a great fit here.”
The former University of Washington standout will be plugged into a revamped defensive line anchored by six-time Pro Bowl tackle Gerald McCoy, bolstered by last month’s trade for pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul and the signing of Beau Allen, Vinny Curry and Mitch Unrein in free agency.
“It’s really exciting,” Vea said by video link from Dallas, where he attended the draft. “I took a visit there. I felt like I had a great connection with the coaches … I am happy to be in this situation.”
The Bucs ranked last in the NFL with 23 sacks last season. Upgrading the defensive line and a porous secondary are among the top priorities after going 5-11 and missing the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season.
Winston is entering his fourth season after being drafted No. 1 overall in 2015. The offense has improved dramatically since the young quarterback entered the league, however the defense has not been able to hold up its end.
In addition to having an anemic pass rush, the Bucs finished 32nd in total defense at just over 378 yards per game and also allowed opponents to convert a league-high 48 percent of the time on third down.
Licht has done some wheeling and dealing to bring in fresh talent, acquiring Pierre-Paul in a trade from the New York Giants and signing Allen and Curry in free agency after they helped Philadelphia win the Super Bowl in February.
Vea, the 2017 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, was still available Thursday night after Tampa Bay traded the seventh overall pick to Buffalo, dropping five spots in the selection order while also receiving a pair of second-round picks in this year’s draft.
The move ensured the Bills of getting the quarterback they wanted, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, and gives the Bucs three premium picks – No. 38, 53 and 56 overall – in the second round Friday night. It also eases the sting of not having a third-round pick, which was sent to the Giants in the Pierre-Paul trade.
“Obviously, we all really liked Vita’s tape, Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, extremely powerful man,” coach Dirk Koetter said.
“We talked to him at the (NFL) Combine, we brought him in on one of our 30 visits. We found out that he loves football, he’s a family man, he’s incredibly gifted athletically,” Koetter added. “We had him high on our board, and we were able to trade back … pick up two second-round picks and still get one of the top guys on our board. It’s a win-win.”
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