In this series, we are going to look at the top 3 rookies from each position that will make their mark on the league from year one. From the Dynasty perspective, we focus mainly on talent, but if you need a contributor right away from this rookie class, you need to look for opportunity. We will focus on the big men up front, the defensive tackles this article that have the best chance to make an impact this season for your IDP squads.
Vita Vea, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Being a 1st round pick doesn’t always mean that a player will play from day 1, but Vita Vea should be lined up next to Gerald McCoy Week 1 when the Bucs play New Orleans. Vea was the 12th overall pick in the NFL Draft. He is a monster of a man at 6’4” 347lbs. He demonstrated his strength with his 41 bench press reps at the NFL combine.
Opportunity to play is very high for Vea as the Buccaneers moved on from Clinton McDonald and Chris Baker. Their departure opens up 916 snaps from last season. If Gerald McCoy stays healthy, he should play around the same snaps as last season, 806 (76.11%). The Buccaneers signed Beau Allen from the Super Bowl Champion Eagles this offseason, but Allen should be the rotational player to spell McCoy and Vea. McCoy has demanded a lot from Vea already including talking to his children:
"Vita's mandatory rookie duties, you can mark it," Gerald McCoy said. "I told him he has to tell my children that he is Maui, from Moana. The only rookie duty I'm going to give him." #Bucs #Buccaneers @Geraldini93 @VitaVea @Buccaneers @gregauman @TB_Times https://t.co/SmfKCFigbl
— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) May 22, 2018
What can we expect from Vea in year one? Well, Clinton McDonald collected 5 sacks, 18 solo tackles, and 11 assists. Chris Baker, who started 14 games had a half sack, 24 solo tackles, and 9 assists. I would expect Vea to have somewhere in that neighborhood if he plays around 500 snaps. He should get more than that, but as a safe projection 3 sacks, 20 solo tackles and 10 assists would be reasonable based on the 2nd DT for the Bucs. There is definite room for a higher ceiling in year one as Baker both had a more productive 2016 season than 2017 and McDonald produced similarly. (Baker 2016: 3.5 sacks, 30 solo tackles, and 18 assists; McDonald 2016: 3.5 sacks, 25 solo tackles, and 11 assists)
Da’Ron Payne, Washington Redskins
Yeah, I know he’s going to play the nose tackle role for the Redskins, but Da’Ron Payne is currently the only other rookie that is set to start from day one at defensive tackle and contribute in a big way. Da’Ron Payne was drafted immediately after Vita Vea at 13 by Washington and will join last year’s 1st round pick and former Crimson Tide teammate, Jonathan Allen on the front line of their 3-4 defense. Payne is a 6’3” 311lb tackle that moves much faster than you would expect and has dropped about 40 pounds from his sophomore season at Alabama but maintained his strength.
Payne is expected to start immediately and will take a bulk of the nose tackle snaps from Evander Hood (also known as Ziggy). Hood played about half of Washington’s snaps for 539 snaps and should serve as Payne’s backup/rotational player on the line. Jonathan Allen could play some inside snaps to spell Payne as well, but 50% of snaps is what I would expect from Payne this season.
Ziggy Hood wasn’t much more than a space eater for the Redskins last season only accounting for a half sack 13 solo tackles and 12 assists. That being said, Payne is seen as a run stuffer that will also occupy lineman but won’t be much impact in the pass rushing department. His value will come in with his tackles. If your league has a higher value for defensive tackle scoring, then Payne could be a good value, but don’t expect much in the sack department. A couple tackles a game, and some assists are probably Payne’s ceiling this season.
Maurice Hurst Jr., Oakland Raiders
I was hesitant to include Hurst on this list because so much of his availability is based on the heart condition that he was diagnosed with at the NFL Combine. I hope that Hurst is an entirely healthy human being first, and if that checks out, then I fully expect him to torture offensive lineman and quarterbacks. Hurst is a 6’1” 292 lb menace. He was expected to be a 1st round selection, but news of his heart condition had some NFL teams take him completely off their draft boards.
Raiders used the 140th overall pick in the fifth round on Michigan DT Maurice Hurst, who might have gone in the first round were it not for heart issues that doctors uncovered at the combine. Most teams had Hurst off their board; Raiders clearly did not.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 28, 2018
Hurst ended up getting drafted by the Raiders, who have been known for draft day surprises. They selected him with the 140th overall pick (Round 5 Pick 3).
The Raiders changed their coaching staff this year bringing in Jon Gruden, and he recruited Paul Guenther to run the defense. Guenther coached under Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati and is expected to bring the same scheme to Oakland. The role that Guenther envisions for Hurst is none other than the role All-Pro Geno Atkins plays for the Bengals.
— Oakland Raiders Talk (@Raiders_TT) June 22, 2018
Hurst should be an immediate starter, granted his health holds up and could be the steal of the draft and possibly your fantasy draft. Last season Eddie Vanderdoes and Justin Ellis played on the interior and each played 44% of snaps. They could continue to be the starters on the line, but Hurst and fellow rookie P.J. Hall will rotate in and could overtake them as starters. Vanderdoes is recovering from ACL surgery in February, so Hurst could take the job before Vanderdoes can even see the field. Trayvon Hester played a third of the snaps for Oakland and could be out of a job if Hall and Hurst cement themselves in the defense. Coach Gruden also brought in veteran Ahtyba Rubin to compete in camp, but I don’t expect him to make the team unless injuries crop up.
Hurst is a disrupter and could be an impact player for the new-look Raiders defense. Eddie Vanderdoes did very little in the statistical department with 13 solo tackles and 5 assists. Justin Ellis compiled a few more tackles with 27 solo tackles, 21 assists, and a half sack. The player Hurst is trying to compare himself to in the Guenther defense, Geno Atkins, had 9 sacks, 29 solo tackles, and 17 assists. While I don’t expect this to be his year one production, somewhere between Ellis and Atkins is where Hurst should fall if his health maintains. 5 sacks and 20 tackles seem to be reasonable for his production.
Snap count and statistical information from Pro Football Reference.
We will move onto Defensive Ends next in this Rookie Impact series. If you would like to read up on the other rookies or look ahead, you can download the IDP Rookie Roundup for FREE. I’ll be talking defense all year long on the IDP Edge Crushers Podcast with my co-host, Darrell Winstead. You can find me on Twitter @seahawksdan8 or comment below. Thanks for reading and remember #IDPRocks!