What I like: Vaccaro is the future of the safety position in the NFL. It seems that every year NFL safeties get a little bigger, stronger and faster, and depending on the team asked to do more and more within the defense. The line between free safety and strong safety is so blurred at this point I’m not even sure you would designate anymore.
But in today’s league the role of a safety continues to expand, and Vaccaro might represent the most versatile prospect in the entire draft in terms of the things he can do from the safety position.
Vaccaro is a physical marvel possessing a rare combination of elite size as well as great top end speed and dynamic quickness and explosion. Vaccaro is a very sudden player. It doesn’t matter where he lines up on the field, when the ball is snapped there’s no hesitation in what he does–he is not passive. Vaccaro is a much stronger player when he’s moving forward and he comes at you, he comes like a hammer. His aggressive nature and physical style of play might not appeal to every team, but when you consider all the things he can do, he makes an enticing prospect.
Going back over Vaccaro’s games, his assignments were varied. At times he played in the box as a pure run stopping strong safety. When he did so he was decisive, smart and physical. Other times he played off as more of a center field type of free safety. This allowed Vaccaro to take advantage of his speed and range and excellent ball skills.
Vaccaro was also used quite a bit as a blitzer where he did a nice job being disruptive as he was often too quick for lineman and too strong for a back. But the part of his game I found most intriguing was how many times the Longhorns lined Vaccaro up in press man coverage on slot receivers and tight ends. This isn’t a soft zone sort of token coverage we see from less athletic safeties. Vaccaro gets up close to the line, uses his hands to re-direct the receiver and can turn and run with them.
What I don’t like: It’s hard to pick apart Vaccaro’s game, but obviously no one is perfect. Vaccaro does a nice job engaging a blocker when it’s a back or receiver and can usually push them around, but when he can’t avoid a lineman in run support or pursuing a play, he really struggles to disengage.
Also, for all his talent Vaccaro isn’t a great tackler. That’s not to say he can’t tackle correctly, because he can. But there are times when his aggressive nature forces him out of plays or sends him in rather recklessly and that causes him to miss tackles, particularly against smaller, more shifty players who can take advantage of his momentum. This is something that likely isn’t going to get coached out of him and is more of one of those “take the bad with the good” types of situations where a team will account for these types of plays in exchange for all the plays Vaccaro will make.
What does it all mean: Vaccaro is a special player. The more I watch him, the more impressed I am. It’s not hard to be an aggressive safety and want to stick your nose in the run game. His ability to blitz and cover like a linebacker or a cornerback is above and beyond what any other safety can do in this draft. For his size he’s not stiff and clunky in coverage. He’s a smooth athlete, with good hips and nice fundamentals.
He’s probably never going to pick off a lot of passes, but he’s got nice ball skills, reads the quarterback well, and should get his hands on plenty of balls considering how physical he is in coverage. In terms of his draft stock, Vaccaro is the only first round safety I have graded. Vaccaro played in a 4-3 at Texas, but I think he’d make an excellent fit in a 3-4 base defense with his ability to defend the slot and allow the defense to not have to switch to nickel and could disguise blitzes and coverages well with his versatility.