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How Kenny Vaccaro Won Over The New Orleans Saints' Scouts & Coaches

How the Longhorn safety earned his first round pick.


A great article from the Times-Picayune's Mike Triplett about Kenny Vaccaro earning his spot atop the Saint draft board, and winning over the Saints' scouts and coaching staff, despite the doubts imposed by last year's shoddy team defensive performance.

Of course, they might have just read Nickel's piece back in December on Barking Carnival, sent him an honorarium, and saved themselves the air fare. They did their due diligence and came to a lot of the same conclusions.

By the time the Saints actually drafted Vaccaro with the 15th overall pick in last month's NFL draft, they had official reports from seven different sources in their file on him - from Reiprish, Baugh and Lucas, from the National Football Scouting service that the Saints and 20 other NFL teams use, from secondary coach Wesley McGriff, from assistant secondary coach Andre Curtis and from defensive coordinator Rob Ryan - plus the opinions of Loomis and Payton, among others.

Beyond his play on the field, Vaccaro was put over the top by other, more qualitative aspects. Specifically, related to his approach to the game, his own ability to scout and assess (i.e. think like a coach), and his work ethic. None of those things would have put him over the top without the supporting film and plays on the field, but the Saints also know that they're the best predictors of a long and productive NFL career.


"He has a demeanor, just a seriousness, a different kind of demeanor," Pace said. "As soon as he walks into that room, you kind of feel it. ... You'll see it when you deal with him (in the media)."

Yep. That sounds like Kenny.


"I remember Josh telling me one of the things that stood out with Vaccaro that night was how well he knew personnel," Pace said. "He reviewed every single player in the draft, their strengths and weaknesses, which was impressive to know. His competition, the guys he played against, what exactly they did good or bad. It was like a scout talking."

Work ethic:

The Saints were further impressed the next day to learn that Vaccaro woke up early and made sure to squeeze in a workout before heading out to the practice facility. "That stands out," Pace said. "Because some guys don't do that. That takes discipline.

Saints' management has a great deal riding on this pick, mostly because a local SEC player coveted by Saints' fans - Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones - who might have injected life into an anemic New Orleans pass rush, was still available when they took Vaccaro. The Saints organization's explanation for Vaccaro > Jones caught my eye, because it's something we wrote about at length in-season in 2012.

What makes the Vaccaro-Jones debate so fascinating is the difference between their college statistics.

Jones led the country with 14½ sacks and seven forced fumbles last year. On the flip side, Vaccaro had just two interceptions last year and five for his career. Also, Georgia had one of the top defenses in the country, while Texas had one of the worst.

But Reiprish said you have to dig beyond the numbers to fairly evaluate a player.

"There's a lot of times Jarvis Jones was put in a position to make the play, whereas Vaccaro was put in a position that didn't necessarily allow him to make the play," Reiprish said.

That's open to interpretation - he could be commenting on broader scheme or specific utilization - but when your defense has holes, one feeds the other. Certainly when Kenny Vaccaro is lined up in man coverage in the slot, he's not available to do much more than shut down his man (and he did - demonstrating unique skills in a 218 pound safety), but he can't impact the larger passing or running game. Or do traditional safety things. So the larger question is: why insist on using your most gifted, physical, and instinctive defender in such a narrow defined role that an opposing offense can easily avoid?

Similarly, Georgia did a lot within the structure of their 3-4 defense, often by simple alignment, to assure Jarvis Jones of pass rushing match-ups against running backs and several free runs into the backfield per game. In fact, one of the surprises of the combine was Jones testing out modestly - people had assumed he was a Lawrence Taylor-like Superman.

Of course, Nickel Rover offered this same note last December:

Manny Diaz made a variety of mistakes this season, but I think his plan's for Kenny Vaccaro's role on the team was one that hasn't drawn enough attention. For all the skills he was taught and the roles he was asked to play, Akina and Diaz seemed to view him as an eraser of individual facets of an offense and over-prized his coverage skills. The ability to play good coverage on a slot receiver is a valuable skill, but it doesn't come up if the other team doesn't even throw 20 passes in the game.

The individualistic view of the players on our team by our coaching staff manifested in a defense that had NFL talents all over the field but sucked as a unit. Sometimes an individual's skills and talents have to be shelved in order to serve the needs of the team. Texas managed to parlay one of the most talented secondaries in the country into a terrible unit in a pass happy league. A player like Vaccaro cannot be used as a lockdown coverage player when the team can't stop the run, it's simply bad resource allocation.

Fortunately for Vaccaro, the Saints came to a similar understanding. Vaccaro can do anything he's asked to do and he'll do it really well. He can't help how he's allocated.

As for the Texas defense, it's a cautionary tale that - as we pore over depth charts and debate how "good" each player is - a successful 2013 on defense will be determined less by a bunch of talented individuals running around and more by their logical coherence working together in a bigger, properly resourced team.