Texas had three players drafted last week, with Kenny Vaccaro going in the 1st round to the New Orleans Saints, Marquise Goodwin going in the 3rd round to the Buffalo Bills, and Alex Okafor going in the 4th round to Arizona, where he'll join former Longhorn teammate Sam Acho.
Both Vaccaro and Goodwin have to be pleased with their result, while Okafor and many Longhorn fans are left wondering why the projected 2nd rounder ended up going two rounds later. Let's talk about each and how they fit in with their new teams.
Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans Saints
Vaccaro's senior year reminds me of another Longhorn great - Pro Bowler Michael Griffin. In 2006, Griffin was asked to be the primary run force in Gene Chizik's simplistic Cover 2 defense against Big 12 passing offenses while also maintaining deep safety responsibilities. The result was Griffin trying to hold together a Longhorn defense stretched thin by opposing passing attacks and getting undue flack from Longhorn fans and journalists for some big opponent passing days. The NFL saw the reality of Griffin's situation and made him a first rounder. The rest is Pro Bowl history.
Similarly, Vaccaro experienced more than his fair share of criticism in his senior year, but most of that was undiscerning - and that's being kind. Vaccaro was a really good player asked to compensate for terrible scheme and teammate deficiencies. NFL scouts saw what Vaccaro was being asked to do for the Texas defense (play slot man coverage on every down against the opposing team's best inside receiving threat, then sprint to a random gaping alley against the run created by Diaz's habitual stunting, and still be mindful of the back half of the defense) on every down and realized that he'd be a pretty damn good pro if offered reasonable tasks and legitimate coordination.
Vaccaro's primary strength is cornerback quickness and reaction time in a 220 pound powerlifter's frame. He moves well laterally, he gets the jump on balls, and in bump and run, he has great recovery. He also has a nice hands and can make a difficult interception - a nice bonus for any NFL safety. He also tends to hurt opponents, which though a less useful skill in today's player protecting NFL, still raises TE awareness over the middle of the field. While his 40 time won't jump off of the watch, pure straight line speed in football is constantly overrated while quickness, recovery ability, and reaction time are underrated. Vaccaro has the latter in spades and it's going to serve him well in the pro game as a traditional safety, blitzer, or a slot/TE eraser.
The New Orleans defense was so consistently miserable last year that a player like Vaccaro can have a substantial impact as a rookie simply by virtue of his ability to hold down his part of the fort, allowing DC Rob Ryan to scheme around other deficiencies and hope for the emergence of some semblance of DL play from younger Saints. Though it's unlikely that Vaccaro can turn the Saints D around by himself, he's an important part of the infrastructure for building out a real defense. New Orleans fans will look back at this draft and be happy with this selection.
Marquise Goodwin, Buffalo Bills
No one benefitted more from the draft process than Goodwin, raising his stock from a likely free agent or 7th rounder to a key 3rd round piece in Doug Marrone's offense in Buffalo.
Goodwin's pure speed is well known - most often best demonstrated by his work in the running game on end arounds and reverses, but his pro viability will be determined less by pure speed and more by niftiness, reliability in bad weather, and good hands working in the slot against man press and exploiting the seams in zone defenses. Whether Goodwin can excel there is pure projection. Marrone's bet is that he can imbue Goodwin with some slot skills and create a weapon that's both a reliable, nifty chain mover with the added bonus potential to go 70 when the defense misses a tackle or blows a coverage. And it never hurts to line Goodwin up with CJ Spiller in motion if you want to increase a safety's pucker factor.
There is some hope Goodwin can adjust to his new task, at least from a mentality standpoint, because Goodwin is not a typical track guy - he's not afraid of contact and he was as physical as his frame allowed him to be during his time in Austin.
But pure slot skills? A total unknown. And Goodwin's lateral movement and route running weren't developed much in Austin.
Goodwin was frequently used on the outside, where he struggled against press coverage and notched a good dozen or so 50+ yard catches two yards out of bounds where he'd been hip checked by the opposing corner. In the passing game, Goodwin showed his wares best when either hit on a crossing route or when an opposing corner was foolish enough to allow him a clean inside release straight up the field. Once Goodwin gets a clean step and some straight line momentum, there is no recovery. Even in the NFL. It's 6. However, Goodwin needs clean lines to max out his speed - he's not Devin Hester.
The problem Goodwin will have is that the NFL won't allow that clean release. So his entire future is predicated upon the ability to learn the language of slot receiver. Marrone and the Bills are clearly betting that they have Wes Welker Rosetta Stone.
Alex Okafor, Arizona Cardinals
Where Marquise Goodwin benefitted from the post-season NFL draft process, Okafor suffered. He tested OK and though there were positive reports about his Senior Bowl practices from the media (usually based on drills where the defender has an advantage), NFL scouts weren't enthused with how he matched up against the better offensive tackles, his first step, and how he disengaged from blockers.
Okafor left Texas on a spectacular note with 4.5 sacks against Oregon State in the Holiday Bowl, and had a long, productive career in Austin, but NFL scouts were concerned about his status as a tweener - not explosive enough as 4-3 defensive end to offset average size, not quick enough as a big 3-4 OLB to hold up in zone coverage and provide a consistent blitzing threat off of the edge.
What Okafor can do is hold up straight up against the run - even against bigger players. And he's a high effort pass rusher who grinds for his sacks. While he doesn't have any single attribute that distinguishes him from other NFL quality players, he has no real weaknesses that can't be addressed by coaching, particularly his tendency to get hung up on blocks and lose the edge.
The Cardinals clearly saw value in Okafor as 3-4 OLB in Round 4 and Okafor will spend the next few months receiving Sam Acho's tutelage in the finer points of NFL 3-4 OLB play. Okafor has a good chance to adapt to his new home and though the learning curve is steep, he'll have an opportunity to make his mark in an Arizona three deep at OLB that lacks impact players.