2018 NFL Draft: Why defensive tackle Vita Vea could be the Falcons' first-round pick

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(AP photo by Timothy J. Gonzalez)

Editor's note: This is the first of seven prospect profiles who the Falcons could select with the 26th overall pick in the first round.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons have one of the league's most talented rosters, but there are a few positions they may target with the No. 26 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

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At the forefront of those positions is defensive tackle. The Falcons lost starter Dontari Poe in free agency, and they have not opted to re-sign Ahtyba Rubin or Courtney Upshaw, although that doesn't indicate they won't in the future. The return of Jack Crawford from injury will be a welcome one, but it's clear the Falcons need to add depth and talent along the interior of the defensive line.

There are a number of interesting defensive tackles in this year's draft class, and Washington's Vita Vea is a player many mock drafts have pegged as a player the Falcons may pick in the first round.

What makes Vea such an intriguing prospect to many draft experts is his rare combination of size and speed. At 6-foot-4 and 347 pounds, Vea has the size of a tradition 3-4 nose tackle, but he has the quickness of a much lighter player.

To illustrate, Vea ran the 40-yard dash in 5.1 seconds and the NFL combine, which was just over one-tenth of a second slower than Taven Bryan, another popular mock draft pick for the Falcons. Oh, and Bryan is 56 pounds lighter than Vea. He doesn't just possess rare speed for his size, though, Vea has plenty of power as well, which he demonstrated by benching 225 pounds a whopping 41 times at the combine.

On film, Vea shows just how difficult he is to move out of run lanes. Even against double teams, Vea stands his ground and can tackle opposing running backs. That ability would be a welcome addition to the Falcons' defensive front, which averaged 4.14 rushing yards per play last season – 19th in the NFL.

What Falcons coach Dan Quinn looks for most in a defensive lineman, however, is his ability to penetrate upfield. On passing downs, the Falcons desire players who are able to collapse the pocket around a quarterback.

Despite his size, Vea was an effective pass rusher for the Huskies. At times, they would even kick Vea out to the edge spot in their 3-4 defense in passing situations, a testament to his ability to pressure the quarterback.

via GIPHY In Vea, the Falcons would get a defensive tackle who possesses nose-tackle size to eat up double teams and the quickness to penetrate into the backfield. It remains to be seen whether he will be as effective as a pass rusher against NFL-caliber competition, but Vea has a solid foundation for Quinn and his staff could build upon.

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