As the 2013 NFL draft vastly approaches, free safety Kenny Vaccaro has emerged arguably the most talented safety in this draft. His ability to become a strong pass defender, along with displaying his physicality in open space, has made him sought by a number of teams and will likely become the first safety selected in the draft.
Vaccaro proved to only need three years of college football in order to reach his full potential, as he stood out on a team that hasn't received as much accolades the past few years compared to other elite programs.
Nonetheless, his time at Texas provided a lot of exciting moments for college football fans. Here are some of the more intriguing highlights from his college career.
There is no denying Vaccaro's ability to become a dynamic playmaker who forces turnovers on his opponents who challenge down the field.
Unfortunately, Wyoming learned that the hard way.
It's impressive how much ground Vaccaro covers as he is able to jump off the deep route that the wide receiver is running and intercept the pass.
However, it was even more impressive to observe how he reacted during the return. He displayed great awareness of what players were around him, which is vital for a safety who wants to consistently create more scoring opportunities for his team.
Vaccaro has the knack for not only anticipating routes of receivers, but also the direct target of a pass by the quarterback.
This highlight against Oklahoma St. proves that, as he perfectly timed the throw and the position of a receiver.
Although he was defending in coverage against a different receiver, that proved to have no effect on his ability to show a quick reaction to the football.
As Vaccaro continues to excel in pass coverage, he manages to impress the average college football viewer with how quickly he reacts to the play that is progressing.
This recent play against Oregon St. is a prime example. After beginning to drop back into coverage against his man, he quickly notices the receiver to his right that broke out his route and was an open target a few yards down the field.
As Vaccaro noticed the play that was developing, he managed to quickly change speeds and deflected what would have been an accurate pass to the receiver.
This may not garner the most attention when observing typical highlights of prospects, but his range itself is impressive.
While Vaccaro's skills in pass coverage are well documented, the physicality that he brings to the football field as a free safety is impressive.
It has been emphasized how Vaccaro covers a lot of ground, and his ability to chase down defenders is no different.
The few plays shown above are indicative of that, as Vaccaro uses his elite athleticism to catch receivers that are running with the football in open space.
It's a clearly valuable trait for a free safety, especially in today's league where both qualities are highly valuable.
As I mentioned in the previous highlight reel, Vaccaro's tackling ability in open space is impressive.
However, his hard hit made against a running quarterback is a true definition of a highlight reel. Having fooled the Longhorns defense on the read-option run, the quarterback earned a huge gain on the ground before receiving a big tackle from Vaccaro.
In a league where the read-option is evolving after the success displayed last year, any team can benefit from a safety whose physical play can put fear into the mind of these athletic quarterbacks.
As the previous highlight demonstrated, Vaccaro displays very good awareness when defending the read-option.
However, his tackle made against Kansas State's Collin Klein was also impressive in its own right. Kansas State did draw up an impressive play, one that involved Klein disguising the ball well while the running back seemed very engaged in the play.
Yet, that showed no effect on Vaccaro, who was able to decipher the player with the ball and was able to chase him down near the sideline.
Safeties have plenty of responsibilities as generals of defenses, and the opportunity for defenses to utilize them on blitzes has been a way of finding success.
Vaccaro showed how effectively he can pressure opposing quarterbacks when he is called to do so. However, his instincts stand out on this play, as he's aware of the incoming blocker and uses his superior athleticism to get past him.
After leaping over the running back, Vaccaro faced a clear path to the quarterback and brought him down in a hurry.
Although Vaccaro has been effective when it comes to forcing turnovers, his elite athletic skill is on display during these few highlights where he makes impressive interceptions.
As a safety, his size has proven to work in his favor as he can either play "centerfield" with the defense or line up in coverage against the receivers.
These highlights show how effectively he can extend his body in order to capitalize on the interceptions. The first interception shown was a very difficult play that Vaccaro made look easy, as he managed to fully extend his body and get in front of the receiver.
The other play, however, was not much easier either. Yet, despite covering on a sideline throw, he was able to use his full body to come up with the catch.