Vita Vea and O.J. Howard are wildcards for the Buccaneers this year in so many ways. If Vea dominates in his second season, that will create a domino effect that will ripple through the defense. If Howard lives up to his obvious Pro Bowl potential, the pass catching depth is automatically solidified.
The two are gaining the attention of more national media. Monday a PFF/PTF collaborative piece talking about sport data in sports highlighted some players on the Buccaneers roster. Two of those three players being Vea and Howard.
Vea Building Off His Rookie Year
In one portion of the massive article, PFF talks about five players they expect to rise into the PFF Top 50 NFL player list. Vea was recognized due to his late season rebound that saw some elite play last year. Here’s what they had to say:
“At the other end of the scale, you’ve got Vea, a player who went in the first round in 2018 but fell off the radar a little because he began the season injured, then took a little while to get going and ultimately didn’t produce the box score production people want to see. Vea ended up with only three sacks, but had 23 additional pressures as a pass-rusher, 17 of which came in the final six weeks of the season. Over that stretch of play, his overall PFF grade was 86.4, and he had a top-20 grade at his position, hinting at what’s to come.”
Thoughts of a defensive line spearheaded by Vea and recently signed DT Ndamakung Suh can only bode well and should put NFC South quarterbacks on notice. If Vea leaps to top 20 play in his position and begins to establish dominant play, then linebackers Devin White, Lavonte David and Shaq Barrett will all wreak havoc. Of course all of that pressure up the middle or off the edge means more forced opportunities for young secondary players like Vernon Hargreaves and Sean Murphy-Bunting. Everyone wins.
O.J. Howard Primed For Breakout
O.J. Howard was also mentioned a little later on the same list. The three-year pro is a gifted athlete with natural abilities at both pass catching and blocking at the tight end position. Though he only played 10 games last year, a look into his stats suggest he was still elite while on the field:
“Another former first-round pick, Howard has yet to top 600 receiving yards or 35 receptions in a season, even while tight ends are breaking receiving records across the NFL. Dive deeper into the numbers, however, and Howard looks primed for a huge season with an uptick in opportunity. His overall PFF grade last season was 89.4, higher than any other tight end outside of San Francisco standout George Kittle. And on a yards per route basis, he was third behind only Kittle and Kansas City star Travis Kelce. His average depth of target was 11.3 yards downfield, a top-five mark in the league, and now the vertical threat he brings is being linked up with new Bucs coach Bruce Arians and an offense that lives down the field.”
While he was only on the field for the Buccaneers for 10 games, he was one of the top three tight ends in the game. That should say all you need to know. A healthy Howard will translate to a Pro Bowl for the tight end. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Howard playing at elite level will ease the burden of newcomers like Breshad Perriman and rookie Scotty Miller.
Avoiding Bad Trends
Both Vea and Howard look to avoid something this year that has nothing to do with their talents. Vea is looking like he’s ready to give the Bucs their return on investment on the former first round pick. He was the 12th overall pick in the first round last year and is starting to play like one. Although his season was only mildly successful, Vea will look to avoid the dreaded “Sophomore Slump.”
Howard on the other hand has already proven he’s worthy of playing among the elites in the game. He just needs to stay healthy. A healthy Howard over a 16 game season is essentially tallying in a Pro Bowl tight end to your roster week in and week out.