The Buffalo Bills could have, should have drafted big Haloti Ngata back in 2006 when they had a glaring need on the defensive line. Instead they took safety Donte Whitner.
The Bills could fill a glaring need – and would be fortunate – if they got the chance to draft "the next Haloti Ngata" this year.
University of Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea is a consensus first-round talent who would be a great fit for the Buffalo defense. Most projections expect him to go at least a few spots sooner than the Bills' current first pick at No. 21.
"This guy gets a lot of Haloti Ngata comparisons in the league," said ESPN analyst Todd McShay. "You see some of the same qualities with the quickness and the feet for such a big defensive lineman."
The 6-foot-5, 340-pound Vea was Pac-12 Conference defensive player of the year. So was the 6-4, 345-pound Ngata when he came out of Oregon in 2006 and was taken 12th overall by Baltimore.
Vea offers a little better mobility than Ngata, who has gone on to make five Pro Bowls.
"Haloti was always brute-force-power sort of player," said former NFL defensive tackle Anthony Herron, now a Pac-12 Network analyst. "Vita Vea certainly has more than enough of that brute force and that power. But surprisingly enough for a guy of his size who can play with such power, he's got some finesse to his game as well. I think that's where the difference lies."
"Haloti Ngata from birth was going to be a dominant nose guard," Herron said. "Vita Vea has the ability to be a little more scheme diverse, because he's got a longer frame to him and he also can move laterally at a higher level than Haloti."
Vea emerged as a red-shirt sophomore in 2016, making five starts, five sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. He got better as a junior in 2017, playing both the dirty-work, 1-technique position (Marcell Dareus' spot) and the penetrating 3-technique spot (Kyle Williams' position). He had 44 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
"I didn't think he had quite the dominant year that I thought he'd have in the games I watched," said ESPN analyst Mel Kiper. "But I'd be shocked if he was there in the late first round."
Herron disagrees, saying Vea was more consistent overall.
"The main spot I wanted to see growth this past year was consistency of effort," Herron said. "A lot of times it's very difficult for guys of his size, especially when they're younger, to play consistently with energy."
"He had one of the better defensive line coaches in the country Pete Kwiatkowski. He's a guy who teaches the technical aspects of the position at a high level but he forces his players to play really hard. That's where Vita Vea grew this year as much as any."
If Vea displays the kind of mobility many expect at the NFL Combine next week in Indianapolis, he may exceed early draft expectations.
"I'm fairly confident he's going to go in the top 20," Herron said. "If he tests as well as I think he's going to test for his size, he's a potential top 15 pick."
"He's a former running back in high school, and I remember being in training camp last year and watching him do the tip drill – the drill defensive backs do," said Pac-12 Network analyst Yogi Roth. "And he looked like a defensive back, the way that he moved. I think the running back background is so legit because on the defensive front to have quote-unquote running back eyes is important. He understands how backs are setting runs up."