23 year old Kenny Vaccaro was one of the best rookies in the NFL last season, a dual-threat safety who brings both football wisdom and youthful exuberance to the playing field at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Prior to being a do-it-all safety for the New Orleans Saints, Vaccaro was an All-American at the University of Texas.
Like the majority of players this series profiles, Vaccaro grew up within the boundaries of the state of Texas, in Brownwood. He attended Early High School. A ballhawking defender and return specialist in college, Vaccaro was still just the 38th rated prospect in the state of Texas according to rivals. He enrolled early at UT to get a head start on his competition in 2009. He arrived on campus shy of his 18th birthday.
Vaccaro was a contributor to the 2009 team that made it to the National Championship game, but not a starter as an 18-year old freshman. He did work his way into the starting lineup in 2010, as Texas would start 5 defensive backs that year. He recorded six starts, including two as a safety. By the 2011 season, Vaccaro was a clear-cut, no doubt starter on the roster, but I’m not sure that anyone believed the 20-year old was bound to be an NFL player.
Kenny Vaccaro had always been on the fringes in terms of size that the NFL scouts look for, and prior to the 2011 season, he really wasn’t much of a prospect, but he changed a lot of minds as a junior in 2011 with a unique style that involved aggressive, in-the-box closing speed and 6.5 tackles for loss from the safety position. Heading into his senior season with some pre-season accolades, all Vaccaro had yet to do at Texas was put everything together for one season and in 13 games in 2012, he managed to do it all. Vaccaro started every game for the Longhorns as a senior — earning All-American honors — and put up a statline including 58 tackles, four and a half tackles for loss, two interceptions, seven passes defensed, and two forced fumbles.
He was on the radar as a top NFL draft pick, given that production at Texas. He was able to bulk up and weigh in at 214 at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine, and ran sub-4.6 in the 40 yard dash. Vaccaro was selected 15th overall by the safety-needy Saints in the 2013 NFL Draft.
As a rookie in the NFL, Vaccaro started 14 of 16 games, and brought an impact style to the playoff-qualifying Saints. He added a sack and a pick to his tackle production which is proportionately what he did as a member of the Longhorns. The Saints got the guy they saw on tape. The Longhorns got a first round NFL Draft pick out of a four star recruit. If Kenny Vaccaro continues to exceed expectations, who can say how much he can accomplish in New Orleans?