Matt Johnson is coming off an injury-filled rookie season and has yet to play in a regular season NFL game. Barry Church is coming off a torn Achilles and we don't know when he will regain his athleticism. Will Allen is a career backup and isn't a natural playmaker at safety. Danny McCray filled in admirably but he's more of an extra linebacker. Sterling Moore does offer us some hope, but he's still got a long way to go before he can answer our needs at safety.
Entering the 2013 NFL Draft, that is the safety situation staring right in the face of the Dallas Cowboys. Safety is a serious need for this franchise. With a move to a new defense, the Cowboys must settle this need once and for all.
Today we return to the scouting reports and focus on Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro. There seems to be a divide on the opinion of the talented safety, but here is my take.
Vaccaro has a great build and is in great physical shape. He stands in at 6'0", weighing in at 214 pounds. Physically he has all the tools to play in the NFL and become a difference maker. Vaccaro is a very good athlete and because of that he can line up at various positions on the field. Vaccaro is going to make the team that selects him very happy because of his ability to play multiple spots in the secondary. There aren't a lot of players available who can come up closer to the line of scrimmage, play in the slot and cover.
I'm not a big Texas Longhorn fan, so I can't tell you why they used him closer to the line of scrimmage and in the slot, but it's possible that the Longhorns didn't have another player with the ability to cover and stop the run. Vaccaro offered them that and they capitalized on his strengths by playing him in that role. Texas employed him closer to the line and allowed him to use his instincts and quickness to make plays on the football.
Texas brought Vaccaro up in the box and used him in a nickelback type of role. Vaccaro is strong in man coverage and uses his athleticism to blanket his man down the field. While Vaccaro is strong in man, he did play some zone coverage and peaked into the backfield, but it wasn't deep in the secondary.
In order to play the safety position at a high level, you need to be fluid and possess loose hips, but good safeties also possess superior instincts. Vaccaro has excellent change of direction ability and also uses his intelligence to make plays. He didn't run a fast 40 yard dash (4.63), but I believe Vaccaro plays a lot faster than he will time in a straight run or drill. His burst and short-area quickness standout on the game tape. I've seen him run down Tavon Austin and that's no easy task for anyone.
He's extremely physical and can make the highlight reel hit. He can diagnose a play and close in quickly, then he makes the tackle or blows the ball carrier up. Vaccaro is also a great pass rusher. When he was allowed to blitz, he stood out on tape and made plays in the backfield.
As far as character is concerned, Vaccaro is deeply passionate about the game of football and has a desire to work hard. Not every prospect loves the game of football and wants to work hard in order to become a better player, but Vaccaro is going to soak in the NFL coaching and thrive under a good defensive coordinator.
The Cowboys are moving to the "Dallas-2" scheme where they would need their safeties to cover a lot of ground. Vaccaro probably has the athleticism and range to play in this scheme, but he didn't play that type of role in college and would have to adjust to a new system. His inexperience playing deep in the secondary could be a concern for the Cowboys' war room, especially new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
Some are looking for the next Earl Thomas, but Vaccaro isn't that type of safety. He doesn't have the greatest ball skills and he only had five career interceptions at Texas. While he may not have great ball skills, he did break up 21 passes and made a lot of plays in coverage, but he just didn't secure a lot of interceptions. To be fair, because he didn't play in the deep part of the secondary, Vaccaro wasn't going to generate a lot of interceptions. He was utilized in a specific role and he thrived in it. Because of how he was employed, we shouldn't let the lack of interceptions factor in and play into the Cowboys' decision.
Vaccaro is extremely physical and aggressive, and sometimes that gets him into trouble. He likes to gamble and it did work out for him, but Vaccaro will need to show more discipline in the NFL. Vaccaro is a good tackler, but he needs to clean up some of his technique, especially in the open field. He loves to drop the hammer and lower his shoulder, but on the next level he will need to wrap up more often in order to secure the tackle.
Ultimately, Vaccaro is going to be compared to former Texas standout Earl Thomas. That isn't a fair comparison for Vaccaro because he is a totally different player. Thomas is the type of ballhawk we would all love to have in Dallas, but those types of players are hard to find now in today's NFL.
A better comparison for Vaccaro would be Malcom Jenkins or Ryan Clark, but I believe he could generate more interceptions than those players and have a more productive career. His quick decision making and athleticism will allow him to make plays in the NFL for a long time.
Vaccaro's positives make him a high first-round draft pick and for good reason. He's got the body, athleticism and intelligence to be a good NFL safety, but if he can make improvements and adjust to playing more of a "centerfielder" role, then it's possible Vaccaro could become a great player. Improving his play in the deep part of the field will probably define Vaccaro's NFL career.
Vaccaro possesses a lot of the same attributes that made Darren Woodson such a great safety. I'm not saying he will become the next Darren Woodson, but he does have some similarities to his game. If Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack are off the board and Vaccaro is still available, then that pick would make a lot sense for the Cowboys.
Kenny Vaccaro 2012 Senior Highlights (via godzillatron24)