When it comes to evaluating and drafting players, one of the most forgotten aspects is schematic fit. A prospect could have all of the necessary measurements, but if he doesn't fit a specific franchise's scheme, then he's not going to be targeted by that team.
The New Orleans Saints had that in mind going into the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, where they selected No. 15 overall. They had plenty of options, and many analysts and observers expected them to select a pass-rusher like Georgia's Jarvis Jones.
They went a different direction, however.
The Saints selected Texas' Kenny Vaccaro, a 6'0", 214-pound safety who can play all over the field. His versatility was the selling point, especially his ability to play in the slot like a nickel cornerback. There's not many safeties who can do that, which is why Vaccaro was so highly rated by the team, as head coach Sean Payton explained. (via thetowntalk.com)
He's got ball skills.That's not uncommon (a lack of turnovers) when you're playing that nickel. One of the things that is attractive about this player is his versatility. When you finished where we did on defense (last) and struggled like we did, you have to find players that fit what we want to do. He can do a lot of things. He's got very good football intelligence. He's got that toughness and suddenness. Clearly, he's a guy we felt very comfortable with.
Vaccaro's versatility made him a prime target for the Saints' new 3-4 defense, which is being installed and directed by former Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
Ryan brings an attacking defense that has its roots in the 46 Bear defense. He blitzes the opposition relentlessly through multiple personnel packages and relies on his defensive backs to stick to their assignments in man coverage.
Ryan's affinity for man coverage forced the team to upgrade their secondary and draft Vaccaro, who excels in man coverage, showing the ability to stick with slot receivers throughout their routes.
Vaccaro's most notable college game came against West Virginia, where he was assigned the very difficult task of covering Tavon Austin, the Mountaineers' dynamic receiver. Austin, who went No. 8 overall in the draft to the St. Louis Rams, was a matchup problem for West Virginia's opponents throughout the year but found little separation against Vaccaro.
Against Austin, Vaccaro played with excellent technique and intelligence. When he had help, he knew how to force Austin into double coverage by playing with great leverage and footwork, as I noted in an October feature at Rotoworld following the game.
When watching Vaccaro, what stood out was that he wasn't just showing up for big games when he was in the spotlight; he was playing well in other games, too.
Consider the 5:35 mark of the video below. The Texas defense is playing man coverage across the board against Wyoming and only has one safety patrolling the middle of the field. Vaccaro is one of the defenders in man coverage, responsible for the No. 3 receiver from the sideline in.
He's four yards in front of the receiver and is expected to funnel him toward the middle of the field at the snap. By funneling him to the middle, Vaccaro gives himself safety help if the receiver runs a vertical route.
When the play begins, Vaccaro is patient as he awaits the receiver's first move. The receiver runs directly at him, forcing Vaccaro to open his hips up and slide outside. By sliding outside, he gives the receiver a one-way go, which leads to the safety help.
As the play unfolds, Vaccaro stays at the hip of the receiver, mirroring him every step of the way.
This is the type of coverage that will be needed from the first-round pick in Ryan's defense. There will be multiple situations that require Vaccaro to funnel receivers inside to free safety Malcolm Jenkins, who will be controlling the middle of the field.
In addition to coverage, Vaccaro will also have to be an asset in run defense. He'll have to be able to support the defensive linemen and linebackers by sticking his nose in and making tackles on ball-carriers.
It's not something he's always been great at, though. While he is willing to support the run, he doesn't always take proper angles. Consequently, he is out of position and misses tackles that he shouldn't.
While his run pursuit is a concern, it's one that could be fixed by having him read his keys more clearly and attack them less aggressively.
One excellent example of his potential in run support came against Kansas State (3:26 mark), when he was playing as a single-high safety.
He was lined up just inside the left hash on 1st-and-10. Kansas State had the ball at the Texas 47-yard line and was ready to run an option to the right, away from Vaccaro.
When the ball is snapped, quarterback Collin Klein carried the ball to his right and Vaccaro quickly read it. He immediately attacked downhill, cut across the middle of the field and tackled Klein for a short gain.
If Vaccaro can support the run on a consistent basis and if he continues to demonstrate excellent coverage skills, he has the potential to become a very good defender and one of the league's best safeties.