AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 15: Safety Kenny Vaccaro #4 of the Texas Longhorns breaks up a pass in the third quarter intended for wide receiver Tracy Moore #87 of the Oklahoma State University Cowboys on October 15, 2011 at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas. Oklahoma State beat Texas 38-26. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
The first in our series on the top NFL prospects from around the Big 12 takes a look at Texas safety Kenny Vacarro, who has the chance to be an early selection in next year's draft.
The University of Texas, well known for producing NFL quality talent, didn't have a player selected until the fourth-round when the Washington Redskins took linebacker Keenan Robinson. This year, Texas fans shouldn't be waiting nearly as long to hear Longhorn get his name called.
Kenny Vaccaro worked his way into a starting safety role last season after performing on special teams and sub packages on defense. Vaccaro appeared in 13 games as a freshman, playing mostly on special teams where he collected nine tackles. During his sophomore season in 2010, Vaccaro appeared in 12 games and started in six. He was used primarily as a safety, but his versatility also allowed him to be used as a nickel back, a position that is starting to become more and more popular in both the college and pro game.
Vaccaro finally earned a full-time starting role at safety as a junior in 2011, starting in all 13 games. He registered 82 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 8 pass breakups and 7 quarterback hits. Vaccaro is a very good strong safety prospect with a physical mentality who loves to hit, but he also has the athleticism and range to be a natural free safety in the NFL. Depending on what team drafts him, Vaccaro could play either safety position at the next level.
Tale Of The Tape
- Class: Senior
- School: Texas
- Position: Safety
- Size: 6'1, 215
- Hometown: Brownwood, Texas
Kenny Vaccaro 2011 Junior Highlights (via godzillatron24)
- Great size, prototypical strong safety build
- Possesses a tall and lean muscular frame
- Possesses fluid hips despite his size
- Great footwork
- Versatile safety who can play either free or strong safety
- Excellent instincts
- Violent tackler who is very solid when making plays in the open field
- Possesses the confidence and "swagger" good safeties must have
- Good range, can play in man or zone coverage
- Has experience in a conference stocked with NFL talent
- Has faced and will face NFL caliber quarterbacks
- Excellent special teams player
- Needs to improve his takeaway and turnover skills
- Must work on his hands, this is an area that may not improve, but he should work on it
- Has a good backpedal, but must continue to work on perfecting it
- His aggression will play against him at times and he must learn when to dial it back
After starting as a junior, he will have a full year of starting experience under his belt, which should make him an even better player as a senior. Texas lost a lot of talent, but Vaccaro will still have two of the nations premier pass rushers in front of him (Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat). The sheer amount of quality players around him may lead some to suggest that Vaccaro has played better than he really is, but he is a legitimate NFL prospect with the size and athleticism to be a difference maker on Sundays.
Playing in the Big XII is always a bonus for a defensive back, as he has seen countless NFL-caliber QB's, WR's, RB's and TE's in his time in Austin. The high-pressure environment of a school like Texas will also help prepare him for the NFL experience as well.
Vaccaro is actually one of my "sleepers" for the 2013 NFL Draft simply because he isn't a hyped up prospect. For whatever reason, Vaccaro is very much under the radar right now except to Longhorn fans.
The one area that he needs to improve on is his turnover ability. He doesn't have great hands, and he will drop some potential interceptions, but he makes up for that with his excellent instincts. I would love to have a safety with ball-hawking ability, but if they have elite decision making and instincts, that does make up for the lack of play-making ability.
The last great safety at Texas was Earl Thomas, who was selected 14th overall by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2010 NFL Draft. Vaccaro won't go that high, and he may not even be a first-round talent, but make no mistake, he is one of the best safety prospects in this year's class.
Early Grade: 2nd round