Flashy skill-position players on offense and a gifted secondary dominate the conversation when discussing the Washington Huskies' return to national prominence but the most gifted NFL prospect on the team is Vea, a monster in the middle already drawing comparisons to some of the most dominant defensive tackles in Pac-12 history.
Playing behind 2015 first round pick Danny Shelton and Elijah Qualls (another NFL prospect), Vea saw limited duty as a redshirt freshman in 2015, registering "just" 17 tackles, including three for loss and a sack. Vea's numbers nearly doubled across the board during the 2016 regular season (35-5.5-4), earning him Second Team All-Pac-12 honors from league coaches despite it being his first year as a starter. Given his relative lack of experience, it should come as little surprise that Vea remains very rough around the edges. He was blessed with an eye-popping combination of size, power and agility, however, that could convince a team to roll the dice with an early pick should he elect to leave early for the NFL.
STRENGTHS: Boasts an imposing frame with hulking shoulders and a powerful, evenly distributed musculature with little to no extra weight around his middle. Terrific upper body strength to stack and shed would-be blockers at the point of attack.
Bends at the knees and maintains pad level throughout the play, planting his legs into the ground and rarely giving up much ground even against double-teams. Can walk the center/guard deep into the pocket as a bull rusher, showing excellent leg drive to collapse the pocket from the interior. Long and strong enough to pull down runners with one arm while occupied with blockers, engulfing ballcarriers for easy tackles when he has a clear lane. Surprisingly light on his feet. Accelerates very well for a man of his size. Good lateral agility and balance, recognizing and reacting quickly to would-be cut blocks by sprawling or side-stepping them. Possesses the short area quickness and motor to be a factor in lateral pursuit.
WEAKNESSES: Slow off the ball, lacking the quick-twitch explosiveness to split gaps consistently. Offers little more than a simple bull rush at this time against the pass, showing very little in terms of hand play to get free. Fails to get his hands up into passing lanes as often as he should given how rarely he is in position to get the sack. Loses sight of the ball as he fights blockers, allowing ballcarriers to slip by too easily.
COMPARES TO: Haloti Ngata, Detroit Lions: Dominant run-stuffers don't arrive often in the pass-happy Pac-12 but when they do their talent is obvious. Don't expect many sacks from Vea but he could be a decade-long starter in the middle at nose tackle.
--Rob Rang, 12-29-16
IN OUR VIEW: Perhaps the best indication of Vea's uncommon athleticism is the fact that he rushed for 578 yards and 11 touchdowns as a high school running back. His value in the NFL, however, will be stopping the opposing running backs, projecting best as a two-gap run-stuffer with Pro Bowl upside.