The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost more than just a game on Thursday night. They also lost one of their best defensive players for the year. Head coach Bruce Arians confirmed on Friday that defensive tackle Vita Vea -- who was carted off the field late in the fourth quarter -- suffered a broken ankle that will end his season.
Vea, the No. 12 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, was off to a fantastic start to the 2020 season, with two sacks, three tackles for loss, and three quarterback hits from his position along the interior defensive line. As we wrote in our preview of the Thursday night game, Vea ranked 14th through four weeks among interior defensive linemen in Weighted Overall Win Rating, an adjusted version of Pro Football Focus' pressures and run stops per snap which accounts for the greater importance of pass-rushing in comparison to run defense.
The strength of Tampa's team so far this season has been the defense, and specifically the front, led by Vea, Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Ndamukong Suh. Losing Vea at nose tackle will have a deleterious effect on the team's run defense, which has been fantastic since the start of last season.
He's likely to be replaced at least in part by Rakeem Nunez-Roches and/or William Gholston, but it's also possible that the sixth-round pick Khalil Davis could get on the field for some snaps, that Suh could slide over to the nose on occasion, and that the Bucs could use more four-man fronts than they have so far. No matter how they adjust, it's going to be difficult to replace a player who was performing at an extremely high level through the early part of the season.