Texas always boasts a ton of talent and has been producing incredible athletes over the past several years for the NFL Draft. The best of this year’s bunch might be their safety, Kenny Vaccaro. Vaccaro brings a tremendous amount of athleticism along with strength and power to make plays all over the field in a conference that puts a ton of stress and strain on their safeties, forging some of the better ones in the NFL. Vaccaro would like nothing more than to enjoy a career trajectory than former Longhorn Earl Thomas. Vaccaro is likely to be the top safety selected as he is the prototype strong safety in the current NFL landscape and his combination of skills, physical tools, and tape warrant a first round pick somewhere around the halfway mark, but it would not be a surprise if a team took him earlier than that like the Buccaneeers did with Mark Barron last year.
Vaccaro is listed at 6’1” 218lbs. He is really well built and definitely looks the part. A strong player that might be able to get stronger, but he does not really need it. He looks just about finished. He has great feet, good hips, and speed and quickness to compete with a few corners. He is explosive gets to full speed from a dead stop quickly and changes direction well. From his tape, Vaccaro looks like he should perform more than well enough to confirm to scouts that he Is a great athlete both in terms of strength and athleticism.
Vaccaro is an excellent tackler when he uses good form. For the most part, he does a great job attacking the ball carrier at the belt buckle, wrapping him up and driving through him all the way through the tackle. His tackling actually makes up for some less than stellar angles he takes at times. He will flash some bad habits including tackling too high when he has a full head of steam and having his momentum carry him beyond the ball carrier, falling off the tackle. Occasionally, he goes for highlight hits when he has plenty of power in how he tackles with good form and delivers a good hit naturally. The other thing that Vaccaro will do occasionally is drop his head. In a league that is increasingly concerned with concussions, and they should, that style could end up getting Vaccaro hurt. It is a tough habit to break, but he needs to see what he is hitting to protect himself in addition to the fact it will make him a better tackler. Vaccaro is more than willing to attack full speed in the running game, but just needs to improve his accuracy and consistency. When he gets out of his fundamentals, he can be victimized like he was against Oklahoma State by Joseph Randle. Despite some bad habits, Vaccaro is a good tackler in space and should actually have an easier time adjusting to the NFL when it is more compact.
In coverage, Vaccaro is at his best when he knows exactly what he needs to do, so he is fantastic in man coverage. Because of the spread out nature of Big XII play, he has plenty of experience covering slot receivers, so he has practice and experience with moving his feet and flipping his hips in coverage. Vacarro could play the slot in the NFL, but it would be a mistake to do it without some protection. He will give up space occasionally and he is after all almost 220lbs. On the other hand, Vaccaro’s breeding and experience should make him fantastic at covering tight ends. He has more than enough power and should be able to run tight end routes for them on occasion, shutting them down. Vaccaro is not nearly as comfortable in zone or when he is left alone in space. First, he does not have a ton of experience doing it as Texas had him play a substantial amount of man coverage. Vaccaro does not always trust what he sees and has a tendency to react slightly late and play slower when he is reading what is going on around him. He also needs to do a better job of flowing with where the action is going. Playing the Big XII, he had a ton of ground to cover which made it difficult and it should be slightly easier in the NFL when he is not seeing as many spread out formations. With less ground to cover, his athleticism stands out more and he has less to keep track of, making it easier for him to be aggressive. He also just needs to get more experience in zone if a team takes him and wants him to play that role. He is comfortable playing deep or in the box and is not afraid to play right up on the slot receiver.
Against the run, Vaccaro flashes the ability to dominate. He has a ton of range laterally and when he reads run, he comes downhill full speed looking to make the tackle. Vaccaro needs to work on taking better angles to the ball carrier and reducing the amount of false steps he takes, because he will end up getting out of position and having to work harder to make plays that should be less difficult. He has the athleticism to get away with it in college and still make the play, but this will be a problem if not corrected in the NFL. He does read and diagnose the run quickly and attacks full speed when he sees it.
He can also contribute on the blitz and can lay the wood on the quarterback. He is big enough and strong enough that he should be a little more comfortable at the proposition of taking on blockers whether on the blitz or in the open field. He is the type of player where if the quarterback and line do not see him, he might just take the quarterback out of the game as he is coming and coming full speed. He has experience blitzing up the middle as well as from the outside, but could improve in terms of timing his blitz. He does a solid job of disguising his intent.
Vaccaro’s best fit is as a strong safety for a team that primarily uses that position to man up the tight end, attack the run, and blitz as this is the role he had at Texas for the most part and where he has excelled. Having said that, Vaccaro has the skills and athleticism to play a more zone based scheme and in some systems could play as a combo safety. He could learn the skills necessary if a team really wanted to play him as a free safety, but it would not be the greatest use of his talents. He should be penciled in as the starting strong safety the second his name is called in the draft.
Vaccaro’s game is reminiscent of former N.C. State and current Arizona Cardinal Adrian Wilson. Wilson has been one of the league’s most consistently good strong safeties in the league while getting only a fraction of the credit for it. Wilson, like Vaccaro has the ability to contribute in man coverage, play the run, and rush the quarterback. Vaccaro is not quite as big as Wilson is physically, but he might be slightly more fluid. Wilson has been a dynamic player in the NFL for over a decade and Vaccaro could have a similar career.
In an NFL that increasingly demands their strong safeties have more range and coverage ability, Kenny Vaccaro fits the bill and could end up being a special player in the NFL. The grueling Big XII conference makes it difficult for safeties to succeed, but the ones that do have done well in the NFL over the past several years. Vaccaro could be the next in that line and there are a number of teams that could use safety help. Overall, the combination of tools Vaccaro has as well as his skill set specifically for the strong safety position could have him go as early as the top ten, but his tape warrants a mid-first round pick.
New Mexico 2012
Ole Miss 2012
Kansas State 2012
Oklahoma State 2012
Texas Tech 2012
Oregon State 2012
Videos courtesy of Draftbreakdown.com