The New Orleans Saints are expecting big things from first-round rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro in 2013, but it is a fifth-round rookie by the name of Kenny Stills who will make the biggest impact for the team in 2013.
Make no mistake—Vaccaro is going to have a huge impact for a rebuilding defense in 2013. He's already recorded 17 total tackles in three preseason games. The problem is, Vaccaro still has to fight both Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper for playing time at safety while sometimes doubling as a nickel corner.
Stills, meanwhile, will head into the 2013 season as an every-down player despite coming off the board at No. 144 overall in this year's draft.
Part of the reason for Stills' playing time is because the injury bug struck the Saints at receiver. Joe Morgan, the man in front of Stills in the slot, went down early in the offseason with a torn ACL per ESPN's Adam Schefter:
Stills has more than seized the opportunity and has claimed the starting job. Jeff Duncan of The New Orleans Times-Picayune wrote before Stills appeared in his first NFL game that he was the starting slot receiver "until further notice."
The Oklahoma product has put everyone on notice. Stills has seen action in three preseason games and tallied seven receptions for 140 yards and two touchdowns—some without quarterback Drew Brees.
It is important to note that Stills is not doing this against chumps, either. As John McClain of the Houston Chronicle points out, the rookie burned veteran cornerback Johnathan Joseph for a touchdown—Joseph was the No. 27 corner in the NFL last year per ProFootballFocus (subscription required):
Talk about rising to the occasion. Stills was a little-known prospect before exploding onto the scene during the scouting combine. Will Brinson of CBS Sports was one of many blown away by the speed Stills flashed:
Despite the impressive showing, Stills remained under the radar. He was pegged to remain that way in New Orleans with tight end Jimmy Graham, running back Darren Sproles and a host of receivers set to compete for Brees' targets.
Stills will have to compete for those targets, but starting slot receivers have a tendency to do very well in New Orleans. There are plenty of targets to go around considering Brees has attempted over 650 passes in each of the last three seasons.
Speaking of Brees, the star quarterback has already publicly praised Stills, comparing him to Saints' receiver Lance Moore, per Schefter:
That's mighty high praise and an even better comparison (so is the praise for Nick Toon, but he's a bigger possession receiver at 6'2" and 215 pounds not fit for the slot). Moore is the receiver who splits time between the outside and the slot. In 2012 he caught 65 passes for 1,041 yards and six touchdowns.
Of course, that's not to say Stills will produce like that as a rookie. But Stills does have the same set of tools as Moore, with the exception being he is 6'0" and 194 pounds, while Moore is just 5'9" and 190 pounds.
A bigger version of Moore is a scary thought for opponents set to face New Orleans in 2013. Stills has already shown a smooth transition to the NFL game, especially after erasing the mistakes from his first contest where he dropped a pass.
With Stills showing he has what it takes and praise from the most important man in New Orleans, the fifth-round rookie is poised to have the best season of all first-year players for the Saints.
Stills' incoming breakout campaign is a testament to just how good he truly is, but an even bigger nod to the fact the Saints excel at finding impact rookies throughout the draft—not just in the early rounds.
All of the Saints rookies will have an impact in one form or another, but it's Stills who will rise above the rest.
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