Player Profile: Saints’ First Round Pick, Kenny Vaccaro

Markell Gregoire, Kenny Vaccaro, Roger Goodell

“With the 15th pick of the 2013 draft, the New Orleans Saints select…

Kenny Vaccaro, Safety, Texas.”


-In a somewhat surprising move, the Saints passed on addressing the defensive front-7 with potential stars like DT Shariff Floyd or OLB Jarvis Jones on the board. They opted to address the safety position, taking the top safety available in this year’s draft class.


-Vaccaro (Vah-CAR-oh) was a two-year fulltime starting free safety for the Texas Longhorns. He was the team captain his senior year, and it was evident on film that he brought a lot of intensity and energy every snap. I watched a few hundred cut-up plays of Vaccaro, and I came away fairly impressed, but I wasn’t in awe over anything.

Here are my notes:


  • Physical, fights off blocks well and evades clutter
  • Tackles well, especially near the LOS
  • Good instincts
  • Intense, shows energy and passion every play


  • Average size, speed
  • Not overly athletic
  • Over pursues and often overruns plays

-Vaccaro isn’t an incredible athlete. His measurables aren’t off the charts. He was a solid, but not great college player. Vaccaro ran a 4.67 ’40-yard dash at the NFL combine, while benching 15 reps (of 225 pounds). He also has tattoo sleeves on both arms, but the designs are mostly religious and in honor of his daughter. He appeared on ESPN’s Sports Science, and he actually tweeted a picture of the Saints indoor practice facility two weeks ago with the caption “Might be here in two weeks?”

He knew.


The Saints understand what the future holds. SS Roman Harper’s 2014 salary actually escalates to $7.1 million, and the cap hit is much less than it is now, making him much more affordable to cut. If we cut him right now, the cap hit would be $5.1 million. So this looks like this will be his last year as a Saint. On the other side, FS Malcolm Jenkins will be a free agent next offseason. So essentially, both of our starting safeties have one year left with the team.

These facts overlook the main issue, though: Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper were absolutely terrible last season. Both safeties were major liabilities in coverage, giving up QB ratings of 115 and 101 respectively when passes where intended in their direction (which was all the time). Neither defended the run well either, as they combined for a whopping 32 missed tackles. More importantly, Harper and Jenkins simply aren’t playmakers. They aren’t ball-hawks, they lack athleticism, and they don’t strike any fear into opponents. Out of the 88 safeties that received significant snaps last season, PFF graded Jenkins and Harper as the two worst safeties in the entire NFL. That’s right, according to their advanced metrics, Harper and Jenkins ranked 87th and 88th respectively. Regardless of whether or not Harper and Jenkins were in contract years, it was time for an upgrade.


-It’s unclear whether Kenny Vaccaro will man the FS or SS position (and more importantly, who of Roman Harper or Malcolm Jenkins, will be demoted), but the Saints want him to start immediately. I think he’ll wind up starting at free safety, moving Malcolm Jenkins to nickel cornerback duties, which may be a more natural position for him. This means I expect both Vaccaro and Jenkins, as well as Harper at SS, to all be on the field at the same time in passing situations.


-I wasn’t a huge fan of the pick at the time, but I didn’t dislike it either. I would have preferred OLB Tank Carradine or CB Xavier Rhodes, honestly. But to say Vaccaro was a bad pick and won’t have a huge role in our defense would be foolish, especially considering how bad Jenkins and Harper were last season. Safety was a position of need, Vaccaro is versatile enough to play both safety spots, and Sean Payton absolutely loved his intensity, passion and leadership ability.


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