Metairie, LA. — Versatility, speed and a hard-hitting nature are the best descriptions for the newest New Orleans Saint, safety Kenny Vaccaro.
"I'm versatile (and) I can do a lot of different things," said Vaccaro, the former University of Texas Longhorn, describing his ability to contribute on several areas of defense as well as on special teams. "I can cover and (handle) run support so I think I can bring that to the team."
Following a junior year where he became a full-time starter for the first time, opening up all 13 games at strong safety and earning All-Big 12 Conference first-team honors, when he posted 82 tackles (47 solo), two sacks, eight tackles for a loss, two interceptions and eight passes defensed, the Brownwood, Texas native, had a difficult decision to make, with a son, Kenneth III on the way as well. He needed to think about whether to enter the NFL Draft a year early or return to Austin for his senior year.
It turned out to be a good decision for Vacarro, who overall in his college career would open up 32 of 51 football games, finishing with 264 tackles, five interceptions, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and 21 passes defensed.
The Saints player personnel and coaching staffs took notice as he continued his trend of increasing his production each season with the Longhorns in his senior campaign. Vaccaro earned first-team All-American honors from Pro Football Weekly as he moved over to free safety where he started 13 games as a senior, leading Texas with 107 tackles (60 solo), while posting two interceptions, five passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
New Orleans drafted Vaccaro Thursday night in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft with the 15th overall pick. It's the first time that the Black and Gold have picked a safety out of college in the first round.
"Kenny is clearly a guy we feel real comfortable with and have a real vision for with what his skill set is," Saints head coach Sean Payton said. "He has versatility. I think when you watched the tape, he played a lot of nickel because of the number of spread offenses they (Texas) saw in their league last year. One of the things that is attractive is that he has the versatility to not only play safety, but to play down over the slot."
Showing a nose for the ball, Vaccaro accounted for nine turnovers since becoming a starter and also will be able to contribute on special teams immediately for the Saints, while competing in the defensive backfield, as he posted nine coverage stops, one forced fumble and one blocked kick in extensive duty as a freshman. He said he is thankful for the opportunity to join the Saints, who expect him to contribute this season, and was amazed by the atmosphere of spending Thursday night in Radio City Music Hall in New York. Vaccaro will get to work in two weeks when he comes to Metairie to participate in the team's rookie minicamp.
"I'm excited to come down there and play," Vaccaro said. "It was my last visit and I just had a really good feeling walking out of there that I might be a Saint," as he even tweeted out a photo of the interior of the team's practice facility on that visit. "I'm excited to get down there and play some football."
Payton said that Vaccaro will have the immediate opportunity to move into the mix, competing in the defensive backfield with several other players.
"We'll see how it goes when he comes in," Payton said. "We say every year that we're going to create competition with everyone in our camps. If he was available, we felt like we were getting an awfully good defensive player to help our team. Now it will be up to him and us as coaches to get him up to speed along with everyone else. That will sort itself out. There will be a lot of competition, not just at the safety position."
Vaccaro will join a Saints defensive backfield that also includes safeties Roman Harper, Malcolm Jenkins, Isa Abdul-Quddus and Rafael Bush and cornerbacks Jabari Greer, Patrick Robinson, Keenan Lewis and Corey White.
Payton said that with the 15th pick, the Saints considered one other player along with Vaccaro before deciding to take the defender with his versatility in the increasingly pass-happy NFL a factor.
"It is a little unique that you see him play a lot of nickel and against a lot of good receivers," Payton said. "Clearly if you are in the two-safety defense and want to drop him down in the slot formation without removing a linebacker you can do that. If you want to use him against some of the substituted offensive sets, you can do that. That versatility is unique and something that I think is beneficial."
Vaccaro said he thought that he made a good impression with the Saints during the visit he made to the facility and in interviews with coaches and the player personnel staff. Although he let his agent handle a lot of later contact with teams, he had a good feeling going away and leading up to the draft.
"My agent usually does all the talking to the teams, but they showed interest the whole process and the visit went really well for me so I had a good feeling," Vaccaro said.