Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro is the top player at his position on most draft analysts’ boards. The 6’1’’, 215-pound safety registered 91 tackles and two interceptions as a senior in 2012.
Vaccaro is a versatile player who could play a variety of positions in the NFL. At Texas, he spent the majority of his time playing in the slot, usually in zone coverage. Even at his size, Vaccaro played well from this position due to his quickness and positioning. He’s a really smart football player who understands leverage and defensive philosophies; if Vaccaro got “beat,” it was typically to an area of the field where he knew he had help.
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Vaccaro’s untraditional positioning for a safety is one reason he had so many tackles. He was typically lined up near the line and was able to make a lot of tackles on quick screens against teams like Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Vaccaro does a good job of fighting through traffic—he can get off of any receiver’s block—but I actually think he struggles tackling in the open field. That won’t be a popular thing to say but the truth is that Vaccaro didn’t tackle well from the traditional deep safety position he’ll likely play in the NFL. He’s a very willing tackler, which is of course good, but he fails to properly break down and overruns a lot of plays. Turn on the Oklahoma State game from this year and watch how many tackles Vaccaro missed.
In coverage, Vaccaro has really good awareness that allows him to consistently jump routes. As an underneath defender, he’s at his best when he can press, sink into a zone, and read the quarterback. I think he’ll struggle as a true deep safety in the NFL, if he’s asked to play there, because he’s probably not as fast as people think.
NFL Comparison: Malcolm Jenkins
Vaccaro will inevitably be compared to a former Texas safety Earl Thomas, but I don’t think that’s really fair to either player. Thomas is a true “centerfielder” in the secondary with elite ball-hawking ability. Vaccaro is more like Malcolm Jenkins—a player with some versatility in the secondary but not the type of coverage skills you’d like in a play-making safety.
Vaccaro is going to be a first-round pick and I’ve even heard some rumors that he could sneak into the top 10. That’s what happens when a draft is weak at a particular position, as this one is at safety. I’d give Vaccaro a second-round grade, at best, because I don’t think he has true game-breaking talent.
John Lynch aside, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has traditionally favored small safeties. The Cowboys don’t have a ball-hawk in the back-end of their defense, and Vaccaro won’t provide that ability, so I don’t think he’s as much of an option as others believe. Of course, anything can happen if the top safety on most boards drops to the No. 18 pick.
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Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.