Ranking every Tampa Bay Buccaneers first round draft pick since 2014

A power ranking of every first-round draft pick made during the Jason Licht era.
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3. Vita Vea, DT/Washington - 2018 NFL Draft - Round 1, Pick 12

The selection of Vita Vea was met with criticism at the time from many fans, as the team had massive holes in the secondary, coming off a season where the team finished dead last in passing defense. Many fans hoped Jason Licht would take advantage of a strong safety class, headlined by Minkah Fitzpatrick and Derwin James.

Originally the Bucs had the seventh overall pick but traded it to the Buffalo Bills who moved up in pursuit of their quarterback, Josh Allen. Tampa Bay then held the No. 12 pick from Buffalo, and the Miami Dolphins had already selected Minkah Fitzpatrick. Derwin James became the expected pick for the Bucs, as he would fill a huge need at safety and also played at Florida State University, so many local Bucs fans had already seen him dominate on the collegiate level and developed an affinity for him.

Licht would eventually address the secondary heavily, just not in the first round. He added cornerbacks M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis in the second round and selected Jordan Whitehead in the fourth round.

Instead, Licht drafted Vita Vea, the massive defensive tackle from the University of Washington with the twelfth overall pick. Licht was aiming to strengthen the trenches, hoping Vea help strengthen the team's rushing defense as well as take on double teams to make life easier for the pass rushers.

The gamble paid off in a big way for the Bucs' rushing defense, as evidenced by the improvement in the Buccaneers' defensive rankings. Over the past few seasons, the Bucs finished No. 23 in rushing defense and No. 24 finish in 2018, Vea's rookie season. In 2019, the Bucs added Ndamukong Suh to replace Gerald McCoy, hoping Suh could help bring a needed edge that the defensive line was missing.

Under Suh's tutelage, Vea and the Bucs' rushing defense took off and haven't looked back. The Bucs finished with the league's best rushing defense in both 2019 and 2020 followed up by another strong effort in 2021 where the team finished third in the category. In 2023, the team once again finished as one of the top five rushing defenses in terms of yards allowed.

The addition of Vita Vea in the 2018 NFL Draft has a direct correlation to the Bucs becoming one of the league's best rushing defenses year after year, and Licht deserves a ton of credit for his decision to trust his philosophy and invest in the defensive line.