Career Recap: For the 2014 NFL Draft, the Washington Huskies produced an impressive nose tackle prospect for the NFL with Danny Shelton. Shelton dominated the Pac-12 at the point of attack with overwhelming size and power. He was the rare nose tackle prospect who ended up being a first-round pick. Vea was Shelton's replacement at Washington and could challenge to duplicate Shelton's rare feat as an early round nose tackle.
As a freshman in 2015, Vea had 17 tackles with a sack. He made a huge jump in play as a sophomore with 39 tackles with 6.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks, one force fumble and two passes batted. Vea was a key member of the Huskies' defense in 2016, helping lead the program into the college football playoff.
2017 Season Outlook: There are a lot of weak opponents on Washington's 2017 schedule, especially in the opening weeks of the season, so Vea should get off to a good start. He will see some quality offensive line talent later in the season when he goes against UCLA, Oregon, Stanford and Utah.
Skill-Set Summary: The NFL always has a demand for big, heavy defenders at the point of attack. Nose tackles who can two-gap effectively are assets in run defense and help to free up other defenders to make tackles. Even though the pro game is driven by passes, 4-3 or 3-4 defenses need nose tackles to be tough at the point of attack.
Vea projects to the NFL as a heavy nose tackle who can be tough at the point of attack. He is a big, thick and strong defender. Vea can use his size and strength to eat up blockers and generally has gap integrity. He also has a quick burst off the snap, and there have been times when his combination of size, power and quickness overwhelms smaller interior linemen. Vea is at his best when he tries to bull his way into the backfield to cause disruption. With his upper body strength and the power in his base, Vea can push off or through blocks. He has a good motor and gives a second effort.
In the run game, Vea can get into trouble when he stands up too high. That lets guards get underneath him sometimes push him back. Vea is a solid run defender, but he isn't dominant. If Vea can maintain his leverage and conditioning, he has the potential to be a special in the ground game.
Vea needs to show improvement in the pass rush during 2017. One thing that would help the junior would be the development of some pass-rushing moves beyond his bull rush. He should work to add a rip and club move, which would utilize his power. Vea also has to improve at generating pressure more consistently and laying more hits on the quarterback in order to be a highly in-demand draft prospect.
2018 NFL Draft Expectations: In order for Vea to be a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, he is going to need to produce more as a pass-rusher. If junior doesn't, he could slide in the draft, similarly to other nose tackles like Jarran Reed, Andrew Billings or Dalvin Tomlinson. If Vea doesn't show pass-rush potential during 2017, he is likely to be viewed as a player who comes out of the game in nickel situations, which means he would spend the majority of the time on the sideline as NFL teams are in their nickel sub packages predominantly. Showing pass-rush skills as a junior is vital for Vea to have a shot at being a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.