There are four players I believe the Los Angeles Chargers should target with their first-round pick. First up, Washington DT Vita Vea.
Have you ever seen the movie Edge of Tomorrow?
It’s a science fiction film, a good one at that, which stars Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. Cruise’s character becomes stuck in a time loop; every time he dies, he wakes up and starts his day all over again in hopes of ending an alien invasion. Cruise’s character fails a lot, trying over and over to figure out a way to save the human race. Without spoiling much, he ultimately succeeds.
Why am I telling you this unnecessary but fun reference? Because watching Cruise’s failed attempts remind me of the Chargers’ defense trying so hard to stop the run but failing over and over and over again.
Jay Ajayi, Kareem Hunt (twice), LeGarrette Blount, LeSean McCoy, Bilal Powell and Marshawn Lynch. Those six players rushed for over 100 yards when playing the Chargers last season. The Chargers finished with the second-worst rush defense in 2017. They also allowed a league-worst 4.9 yards per carry.
Want to finally fix the problem? Draft Washington’s Vita Vea with your first pick.
Vita is a 6-foot-4, 347-pound beast who eats space–and probably everything else–for a living. Scouts rave about his rare combination of size and athleticism. For a man of his stature, he shouldn’t be able to do the things he does on the football field.
He’s one of the strongest players coming out of this draft. He finished with 41 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press at the NFL Scouting Combine, second-most among defensive linemen. He also displayed quickness running a 5.10 40-yard dash (again, he’s 347 pounds). He sat out all other drills after tweaking his hamstring.
Vea is very durable and comes with solid production that general manager Tom Telesco craves. Vea played in every game since being recruited in 2015 but didn’t become a full-time starter until 2017 (was a reserve his freshman year and credited for five starts his sophomore year). According to College Football Statistics, he finished with 44 total tackles, including 5.5 for loss, four pass deflections and 3.5 sacks in 2017. The year prior, he racked up 39 total tackles, including 6.5 for loss, five sacks, two pass deflections and one forced fumble.
He was one of the premier run stuffers in college football in 2017. According to Pro Football Focus, Vea’s 91.6 run-defense grade ranked second among all FBS draft-eligible defensive tackles; he also ranked fourth in run-stop percentage.
And, unbeknownst to some, that’s not all he’s good for. His 41 total quarterback pressures tied for third-most among FBS draft-eligible interior defensive linemen, as noted by PFF. NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah says Vea is a “more athletic version of Haloti Ngata.”
Some will argue he takes plays off and gets winded quickly because of his size, but I don’t really buy it. He doesn’t have the highest motor, but this thread here, in a game where Washington took on Saquon Barkley and the Penn State Nittany Lions in the Fiesta Bowl, does a good job in showing what kind of impact he can make, especially from start to finish. He’s doing the dirty work 24/7, constantly commanding double teams and creating openings for linebackers and edge rushers. He may not have a great first step, but he’s still able to push the pocket. It won’t always look like he’s doing much, and he’s not going to completely fill up the stat sheet, but his presence undoubtedly makes his teammates around him that much better.
Vea already visited the Chargers. He saw snaps at three different positions on the defensive line, but if he were to be drafted by the Chargers, Vea would be a Day 1 starter at the 1-tech in Gus Bradley’s 4-3 scheme, with the ability to play the 3-tech in certain situations. They need a replacement for an aging Brandon Mebane, who is 33 years old, coming off injury and in the final year of his three-year deal.
However, the big guys don’t normally go high, as no defensive tackle over 300 pounds went in the first round of last year’s draft. Packers’ Kenny Clark (6-3, 314 pounds) and Panthers’ Vernon Butler (6-4, 323 pounds) went late two drafts ago, going 27th overall and 31st overall, respectively. The year before that, Danny Shelton went 12th overall to the Cleveland Browns and Malcom Brown went 32nd overall to the New England Patriots (Jets’ Leonard Williams was a top-five pick, but he was listed as a defensive end who weighed just over 300 pounds). Of the players listed, only Shelton, a former Washington Huskie who weighed in at 6-foot-2 and 339 pounds, was listed as a nose tackle.
Just a note: Shelton finished with 34 reps in the bench press and ran a 5.64 40-yard dash being two inches shorter and eight pounds lighter than Vea. Butler, the next heaviest player mentioned above, finished with 26 reps on the bench press and clocked in at 5.33 seconds in the 40.
I’m one who prefers drafting a run-stuffing defensive tackle outside of the first round, but Vea, who is more than just a two-down player, is an exception. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are elite, but it’s fair to say that both defensive ends wore down towards the end of last season. They need help, and Tevita Tuliakiono Tuipuloto Mosese Va’hae Faletau Vea (yeah, that’s his full name, which makes all the sense in the world for a man his size) would be a great addition to an already stacked defensive line.