On a talent-laden Texas squad, Kenny Vaccaro came in and immediately earned playing time, registering 19 tackles, a blocked punt and a forced fumble as a rotation player his freshman year. As a sophomore, he earned the team's most valuable special teams player award, while starting six games at safety, where he registered 54 tackles, an interception, seven pass break-ups, and a blocked punt. With fellow Longhorn Earl Thomas' departure to the NFL following the 2010 campaign, Vaccaro emerged as arguably the best safety in the Big 12 as a junior, posting 82 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two sacks, eight passes broken up and two interceptions.He followed that up with a senior season in which he logged a career-high 107 stops, collecting five turnovers and repeating as a First Team All-Big 12 selection.
For NFL teams, Vacarro's most desirable quality is his versatility. He has an optimal combination of size, tackling prowess and coverage ability that teams covet in a well-rounded safety. He can re-route slot receivers with his strength (and play a "star" linebacker in a dime package) and, at the same time, can utilize his size and speed to cover tight ends. He exhibits good instincts in zone coverage (and the athleticism to patrol a deep half or third), is an aggressive and technically-sound tackler and has proven to be an effective blitzer from the edge. With this impressive skillset, scouts believe he can flourish at either the traditional strong or free safety positions - a real plus in Monte Kiffin's scheme. And, surprise, surprise: he's an "RKG": Vacarro is a passionate, dedicated player that has earned the respect of his teammates.
Lets go to the tape. Thanks the the lovely lads at Draft Breakdown, we have plenty of footage. Vacarro can be seen in Big 12 skirmishes against Baylor, Texas Tech, and Kansas State, as well as against non-conference foes Oregon State (where he goes against Cowboys invitee Markus Wheaton) and Ole Miss. Vacarro's strong tape was substantiated for assembled scouts during the pre-draft circus; at the Combine, he logged good explosiveness and quickness scores: a 4.63 40-yard dash, 15 bench press reps, impressive 38-inch vertical and 10'1" broad jumps and 4.06 short shuttle and 6.78 three-cone times.
But enough of Ol' Rabble's bloviating. You undoubtedly want to hear from our panel of esteemed scouts. Your wish is my command:
ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton): top-rated S; 13th overall
Instincts/ Recognition: Reads quarterback's eyes and shows good awareness when given deep zone responsibilities. Disciplined. Rarely takes the cheese in underneath zone coverage and rarely gets caught out of position biting on play action. Flashes above average route recognition and the ability to jump underneath routes when lines up over the slot. Instinctive pass rusher that finds seams in pass protections.
Cover Skills: Versatile and doesn't have many limitations. Quick-twitch athlete that can stay with most slot receivers in man coverage. Fluid and smooth for a safety with his size. Good balance and body control transitioning out of breaks. Stays low in backpedal for the most part. Explodes off back foot and closes well when facing the ball. Can turn and run with tight ends and most slot receivers. Has a second gear and above average recovery speed. Covers a lot of ground and has enough range/length to play a centerfielder-type role. Can be more physical and fundamentally sound in press coverage. Also an effective pass rusher that closes well and flashes the ability to run through blocks in the backfield.
Ball Skills: Doesn't have elite ball skills and five interceptions over the past three seasons doesn't suggest ball hawk but has the potential to develop into a playmaker. Has the instincts and range to get into position to make a play. Takes sound angles to the point and can high point the ball. Aggressive and can come up with 50-50 balls. Flashes the ability to turn, locate and play the ball when back is initially to the quarterback.
Run Support: Plays with an edge. Can get caught up in the wash when lines up in the box but strong for size and flashes a violent punch when taking on blockers. Aggressive and fills hard when lines up deep. Has the length and body control to provide a reliable last line of defense and make plays in the open field when plays under control. Flashes the ability to deliver the big hit but doesn't always break down and can whiff. Angles are a touch inconsistent and caught out of position occasionally.
Intangibles: Shared Team Captain Award with Alex Okafor and was a named a game captain in 10 of 12 regular-season games in 2012. Captured school's Mike Campbell Defensive MVP and George `Hook' McCullough Team MVP Awards in 2012. Shared the team's Clyde Littlefield Most Spirited Defensive Player Award with Desmond Jackson and Alex Okafor in 2012. Earned Texas' Joseph W. Moore Tenacity Award for Defense in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Earned Texas' Frank Denius Most Valuable Special Teams Player award in 2010. Enrolled at Texans in January of 2009 so he could participate in spring drills that year. Became a father in early 2012. Arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault after being involved in a fight with another student during a pick-up basketball game at a campus gymnasium in fall of 2009. Arrested along with former player Eryon Barnett on a charge of failure to obey after allegedly refusing to leave a pizza parlor in May of 2012. Charges were later dropped.
CBSSports.com (Rob Rang): top-rated S; 19th overall
Strengths: Prototypical size and build for the position. Possesses a high-cut frame with good overall musculature. Shows very good straight-line speed, agility, balance and hip flexibility. Athleticism for coverage duties are enhanced by Vaccaro's vision and instincts. Quickly locates the ball and shows an understanding of route-progression, rarely getting caught out of position.
Often asked to drop down from his free safety position to cover the slot, demonstrating a smooth backpedal, hip turn and the burst out of his breaks to stay in the hip pocket of his opponent. Hasn't generated the number of interceptions of prior UT defensive backs, but has good ball skills and showed greater willingness to jump routes as a senior.
Highly aggressive run defender. Flies to the line in run support, demonstrating a physical pop and generally reliable open-field tackling skills. Possesses the long, strong arms for the drag-down tackle, as well as good closing speed in pursuit and on the occasional blitz.
Weaknesses: Can get out of control in his aggression toward the line of scrimmage. Will duck his head in his attempt to make the big hit and leave cut-back lanes for patient, explosive runners to take full advantage. Must do a better job of wrapping up, rather than leading with his shoulder.
Hasn't shown the consistency as ballhawk considering his hype, recording only five interceptions in 51 career games. Teams will want to ask Vaccaro about a few run-ins with authorities. He was reportedly arrested following a fight with another Texas student in 2009 and again in 2012 after failing to obey a lawful order, a misdemeanor.
Compares To: Eric Weddle, FS, San Diego Chargers -- Like the highly instinctive and versatile Weddle, Vaccaro has the athleticism and size to line up wherever his NFL team needs him most. Vaccaro hasn't yet shown the same ball skills as the Chargers' Pro Bowler but showed signs of improving in this area as a senior.
Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki): 2nd-rated FS; 21st overall
Positives: Very good hips and movement skills for his size. Has long arms and big hands. Versatile and highly athletic. Excellent leaping ability (38-inch vertical). Lose-hipped and quick-footed. Unique cover skills - can man up receivers in the slot (frequently used). Ranges off the hash like a centerfielder. Drops downhill aggressively, runs the alley and closes fast. Willing striker. Can secure one-on-one tackles. Functions in space and in the box. Effective blitzer. Tough and competitive. Outstanding Bowl performance vs. Kansas State as a high safety.
Negatives: Can iron out in his pedal. Lacks elite ball skills - only five interceptions in 32 career starts (was more of a deterrent than a playmaker). Could stand to play with better discipline to leverage the field. Riverboat gambler - drifts in zones and can be baited by savvy quarterbacks. Overly emotional. Maturity, professionalism and accountability need to be investigated (multiple petty arrests). Said "no thanks" to the Senior Bowl and showed up at the Combine out of shape. Focus and commitment to the game need to be examined.
Summary: Excelled as a cover safety, Vaccaro is a smoother than fast, athletic, instinctive, physical defender with an expansive skill set which enables him to do just about anything required of the position. Has potential to be a valuable matchup defender, rangy centerfielder and aggressive box eraser, but needs to land in a veteran, self-policing locker room to expedite his maturation and keep his head on straight. Bulked up after the season and did not look as fluid in Combine drills as he did on tape. Has bust potential after a big payday.
Ourlads (Dan Shonka): top-rated FS; 17th overall
Three-year starter who has also been a special teams' coverage dynamo since his freshman year. An impact hitter in the open field and on the blitz. Explosive hitter to and through the ball carrier. When tackling he will throw his body at the ball carrier. Anticipates with good reaction, toughs, aggressiveness, and is competitive. Plays at a high level regardless of the opponent. Top end acceleration and speed. Fills the inside running lanes with aggressiveness. On run support he plays off blocks, squares up, and tackles. Physical take on safety who uses his hands, sheds and stays on his feet. Good timing on blitzes where he pressures the quarterback and is disruptive in the backfield. Instant burst to quarterback. Good body control to work his way through traffic and make a play. Plays at 10 yards deep or walks up and plays nose to nose on the slot. Smooth in his turns. Keeps good position on receivers. Good leaping ability. Goes for the strip. Accepts a challenge. A reactive player who closes quickly on the ball carrier. Plays up in the nickle package. A confident and daring player. May be overly aggressive at times and play out of control as a tackler. Plays faster than timed speed. A first year starter who should provide impact play.
And don't forget about our resident scout Archie's recent scouting report on the Texas safety.
Our panel of scouts has Vaccaro slotted in a fairly tight range, right in the middle of the first round, perched between picks 13 and 21. This is a testament to his dynamic athleticism, range and aggressiveness: he's a "combo safety," capable of making plays against both the run and pass. I think he's one of a handful of players the team is seriously considering for the 18th pick (with Warmack, Cooper and Richardson and, perhaps DeAndre Hopkins), and will confidently place him in the first round on my 2013 "little board."
One of many reasons the team will give him such serious consideration is that they have need for a dynamic playmaker at the position; the team has invited at least three safeties to Valley Ranch each year since 2009, and drafted only third-day prospects Michael Hamlin (5th round, 2009) and Matt Johnson (fourth, 2012). Its time for them to spend a first or second-day pick on the position. So, although there are players I would prefer they select at number 18, if Vacarro proves to be the choice, I'll be happy with the roster upgrade he'd represent.
Next up: Florida International safety Johnathan Cyprien