The New Orleans Saints made the ultimate best-player-available value pick Saturday when they took Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri in the fifth round, 167th overall.
Sunseri is the son of Sal Sunseri, who was a coach on Nick Saban’s staff (when Vinnie was recruited) before moving to rival Tennessee to coordinate the defense and then jettisoning to Florida State to coach the defensive line after just one season.
As unstable as his father’s coaching career has been the past few years, the younger Sunseri was a model of consistency at Alabama. In many ways, he was the rock that held together a talented Crimson Tide defense.
When Sunseri tore his ACL in the middle of his senior season, the Alabama defense suddenly became a little normal. Offenses suddenly exploited the 'Bama defense in ways they hadn’t previously—save for Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans’ effort against them early in the year.
Despite the Tide defense possessing two first-round picks in this year's draft, Sunseri was the rock.
Part of that had to be credited to Sunseri’s leadership, which cannot be coached but is certainly available to the son of a coach. But it’s easy to assume Sunseri’s lone attributes were his leadership and smarts.
The actual truth is that he was the playmaker of that defense—even one that had Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and C.J. Mosley. If not for Sunseri’s remarkable pick-six against Texas A&M, Alabama may have lost that classic game in mid-September.
Still, Sunseri’s value to Alabama, and potentially to the Saints, cannot be measured by stats or height/weight/speed variables. Occasionally, there are guys who come through the draft process who defy those generally reliable measurements.
Sunseri appears to be one of them. Like Jim Leonhard, Sunseri is an undersized tough guy who just makes plays. He does whatever the coaches ask of him, because he knows exactly what every player on the defense is supposed to do in each alignment and scheme.
He literally can be a coach on the field, taking after his father.
As he projects going forward with the Saints, he figures to provide excellent competition to the current Saints' safety depth chart. He will not break through that loaded group in 2014, but by 2015, he could easily find himself on the field as a third safety—the role he is naturally suited for, and the one he played in Nick Saban’s defense at Alabama.
Quickly, it’s important to note that Saban plays a 3-4 defense. But if you look closely, the Tide usually line up in a 4-2-5 nickel alignment, dispensing three safeties, something Rob Ryan often does with his defense.
The Saints, of course, re-signed safety Rafael Bush earlier this offseason and brought in CFL star Marcus Ball to compete for a roster spot. That left four players for three “regular playing time” spots.
But with Bush signing just a two-year deal and Ball an unknown, Sunseri could easily break through into the lineup quickly. Even if it takes until 2016, when Bush becomes an unrestricted free agent, Sunseri provides tremendous value to the overall composition of the roster as an inexpensive regular contributor.
In the meantime, it is almost certain that Sunseri will use his attention to detail and no-nonsense attitude to aid a truly lacking special teams unit improve tremendously in 2014.
Based strictly on value—financial and potential contributions—this may be one of the finest draft selections Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton have ever combined to make.