Why Kenny Vaccaro Will Win The Defensive Rookie Of The Year

By Corey Elliot
Jerry Lai-USA Today Sports Images

Kenny Vaccaro will be the defensive rookie of the year in 2013.

The New Orleans Saints ranked 31st in passing defense last season while only racking up 15 interceptions for an NFL 14th best.

With obvious needs on defense and a new defensive coordinator in Rob Ryan the Saints switched to a base 3-4 defense and sought out their main defensive need with their 15th overall pick in the NFL Draft: help with that awful pass defense.

Maybe it was because Gregg Williams was no longer there to give his awesome pre-game speeches. I don’t know, but what I do know is Vaccaro will start and he will have an immediate impact for the Saints.

Before the 2012 season at Texas, Vacarro expressed his desire to win the Thorpe Award. Despite falling short of that goal he was one of the only upsides to a down year on defense for the Longhorns. His athleticism is the foundation of his ability to fill in on different coverages. Vacarro, a FS, was used in man coverage as a nickelback while also jumping over to the other safety position at times.

The guy is a ball hawk. While his final two seasons at Texas only saw four interceptions, he was a part of 14 pass break-ups. He was almost always in on every defensive play.

For a team that gave up 4,681 passing yards in 2012 that is exactly the player they need. Vacarro isn’t the best defensive player from the draft, but then again, this draft wasn’t really built on stars and big time talent. This draft was built on depth and team needs.

“Who can come in and make an immediate impact on the football team?”

That was the underlying question of the night and Vacarro was the answer for the Saints.

The athletic ability of Vaccaro is one of the best on the field at all times. In the final Texas v. Texas A&M game he made an interception that looked almost identical to Charles Woodson’s interception against Michigan State during his Heisman season. Just five weeks later in the Holiday Bowl, Vaccaro was on a blitz off the edge where he had only the running back to get by. Vaccaro jumped over the blocking running back and made the sack.

In a base 3-4 Vaccaro is going to be able to contribute both of those athletic abilities to help the Saints become a better rounded defense. Everyone is going to be expecting the New York Jets Dee Milliner to have a breakout season and immediately make an impact, but the Jets just aren’t good enough.

Although it is possible to be really great on a really bad team it never seems to pan out that way. When your team is losing and there is controversy it’s not easy competing, even on a personal level.

Case and point: the Saints. Last season there was controversy while they were losing and it reflected in their on-field performance. This season, Sean Payton is back and Drew Brees will be reminiscent of 2011. The Jets, however, are likely on the last season with Rex Ryan as their head coach as they enter what promises to be another circus amongst the quarterback situation.

So how does Kenny Vaccaro separate himself?

Look for the rookie to fly around the Saints secondary on every play whether they are defending the run or the pass. He loves the game of football more than most. You don’t have to personally know him to notice that. It’s evident in his twitter feed, his YouTube highlights, all of it. There is a glowing admiration for the game of football with Vaccaro which means he has three qualities: he’s coachable, he’s willing to sacrifice for his teammates and he is driven to maximize his talents.

The Saints drafted a guy who will be first in and last out. They drafted a player that will start week one as a rookie but will have it down to a science by week eight. Kenny Vaccaro isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread, but he’s certainly no bum. He gets it. He understands the big picture and on Sundays this fall we will all be witnesses.

Vaccaro will be a presence in the run defense but will define himself in the passing defense. He will have four or more interceptions, many more deflected passes and he will be the defensive rookie of the year.

By the way, the Pro Bowl wouldn’t surprise me either.


You can follow Corey Elliot on twitter @CoreyElliot

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