15th overall selection in the first round
6'0", 214 pounds, 4.63s 40
The Saints selected experienced safety Kenny Vaccaro in the first round, signaling that the combo of Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins, the Saints' starters at safety for the past three years, may soon be broken up. Veteran Harper has an intractable contract, meaning he will almost certainly be on the Saints' roster in 2013.
Because Vaccaro was used as a man-coverage safety at Texas and has experience covering the slot, it is entirely possible that all three safeties will see significant playing time in Vaccaro's rookie year.
Very aggressive in run support, Vaccaro has significant experience playing shallow over the slot receiver. A strong tackler, he is willing to blow up blockers and tackle backs bigger than him.
Vaccaro is also experienced on special teams and will likely see time on coverage teams. As a sophomore at Texas, he was voted the team's Most Valuable Special Teams player and has blocked two kicks in his career. On defense, he was rarely used as a deep center fielder, and will need to develop his reaction when given a deep half coverage responsibility.
In his final game with the Longhorns in the Alamo Bowl against Oregon State, Vaccaro played most of his snaps near the line, at linebacker depth or closer and outside the tackle. He recorded seven tackles and two passes broken up.
Vaccaro ran the second-best 20 yard shuttle drill at the NFL combine with a time of 4.06 but a pedestrian 4.63 40 yard dash. His 38" vertical was excellent, as well as a 6.78s three-cone drill at the combine. He did not run at the Texas pro day because he injured a hip flexor during a private workout with the Cowboys.
He finished his senior season at Texas with 92 tackles and two interceptions, one of the bright spots on a bad Longhorn defense, the worst in school history. Vaccaro started 32 out of 51 games at Texas, four of those games at linebacker. He was an All Big-12 starter for his junior and senior seasons, and along with teammate Alex Okafor was honored as a season captain. Vaccaro was a four-star recruit to Texas in 2009, rated the 17th best high school cornerback.
Vaccaro was desired by a number of NFL teams and was widely considered to be the best safety in the draft, even if the Saints intend to use him as a nickel cornerback during his rookie season, similar to how they treated Malcolm Jenkins as a first round pick in 2009. The Saints took nearly the entire 10 minute time allowance to make the selection, but did not execute a trade down.
Sean Payton said after the pick that Vaccaro was "versatile enough to play either one of the safety positions, and certainly a guy that can handle some of the nickel." Payton said the Saints looked at a lot of film of him playing nickel cornerback and safety.
In the grand scheme of recent first round safeties, Vaccaro isn't special, but he is the top safety in this year's draft and was coveted by a number of teams. Scouts rated him as an excellent coverage safety and was very productive on a bad Texas defense as a senior.
Vaccaro helped raise five younger siblings in a single parent household in Brownwood, TX after the death of his father. He has two arrests in his college career for troublemaking (misdemeanor assault in a pickup basketball game fight, another for failure to obey) brings in to question his intangibles, but his on-field presence is excellent. He was one of 23 players invited to attend the draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York and sports a faux-hawk hairdo and three-piece suit.
Like many players the Saints have targeted in recent drafts, Vaccaro has NFL bloodlines. Uncle A.J. Johnson was a defensive back and a sixth round pick for the Redskins in 1989, playing until 1995 as a backup defensive back. Johnson scored two career touchdowns off interceptions and played in two playoff games for the Redskins in 1992.
This is the first time the Saints have ever drafted with the 15th overall pick. Vaccaro tweeted, "WHO DAT!!!!!!!" Thursday night after the pick.
The Saints continued the slide of DT Sharrif Floyd, the top rated defensive linemen according to many scouting reports, who slid to the 23rd pick. The Saints also passed on Georgia linebackers Jarvis Jones (picked 17th by Pittsburgh) and Alec Ogletree (picked 30th by St. Louis), CB Xavier Rhodes (picked 25th by Minnesota) and LSU S Eric Reid (picked 18th by San Francisco).