Winning football games begins with winning at the line of scrimmage. That’s why there’s been a ton of buzz surrounding the idea of an interior lineman going in the top-10 and even cracking the top-5 in the upcoming draft.
So where are the top interior defensive prospects.
Danny Kelly of The Ringer shares his latest mock draft, and it’s one that puts an interesting prospect on the Chicago Bears’ radar. Kelly sends Washington defensive lineman Vita Vea to Chicago with the No. 8 pick. Vea is a large human, checking in at 6-4 and 347 pounds. He moves well for his size (he ran an the 40-yard dash in an impressive 5.10 seconds) and was blessed with the kind of athleticism that allowed the Huskies to play him on the edge on occasion.
Kelly projects Vea – whose given name is Tevita Tuliakiono Tuipuloto Mosese Va’hae Faletau Vea – sliding into a role similar to that of Justin Smith – whose given name is Justin Smith – when he was on the defensive line for Vic Fangio and the San Francisco 49ers, rotating between the defensive end and nose tackle positions. Smith was a Pro Bowl performer in three of the four seasons in which he played in Fangio’s system, earning first-team All-Pro honors in 2011. In the four seasons he played in Fangio’s scheme, Smith missed just two games and averaged six sacks per season.
While the best case scenario would be landing a pass rusher to start on the opposite side of Leonard Floyd, the idea of drafting a defensive lineman who can soak up enough extra attention to free Floyd is appealing. GM Ryan Pace has done excellent work in building the front seven with a core of Floyd, Akiem Hicks, and Danny Trevathan, but the group still needs work. After allowing starting defensive end Mitch Unrein to leave in free agency, the Bears could turn to Vea as a younger and more physically gifted alternative that could keep Jonathan Bullard in a role as a key reserve.
Vea had the option to enter the 2017 NFL Draft, but passed on the opportunity of being a possible second-round pick for the chance to improve his stock. A year later, Vea has earned a first-round grade, a comparison to five-time Pro Bowl and two-time All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and finds himself on the fringe of being a top-10 pick with the possibility of joining defense that ranked in the top-10 in scoring and yardage in 2017.