When Kenny Vaccaro was drafted, I remember many of the twitter "experts", otherwise known as regular Joe Bloggers just like me, blasted the pick. Some wanted Jarvis Jones, others wanted Bjoern Werner and most subscribed to the "anyone but Vaccaro" camp. This because I guess he was labelled as a corner/safety tweener that went for the big hit and would draw penalties. Also frequently noted was his 5 interceptions in 51 college games, so he wasn't a "ballhawk safety" which makes every casual fan drool. Stats above impact on the game is the end goal, I guess. Personally I liked Vaccaro as a pick and I felt the Saints truly did get the best defensive player left on the board at that point. You'll remember I desperately wanted Star Lotulelei to fall to the Saints and he was my dream pick, but ending up with John Jenkins at nose instead of him with Vaccaro to boot wasn't a bad trade off at all. Fast forward to now, I think we can all agree Vaccaro was a good pick. And while some of you were correct in your assessment of Vaccaro's limitations, those has been less of an issue because Rob Ryan has been so good at putting him in a position to succeed.
I have to admit, the inspiration for this blog post was a horrific article on Bleacher Report by none other than Murf Baldwin.
I hesitate to clue you into this and link it, because that basically means he's won by me calling attention to something so absurd. Of course that's what Bleacher Report is all about… baiting clicks with outlandish statements. Obviously it worked on me, despite my knowing of the end goal. That is probably most disappointing of all. But this article is so off base I cannot let it sit out there on the interwebs without getting called out. The central point is that "Rob Ryan is Misusing Kenny Vaccaro", so for a second I'll ignore the fact that through 12 weeks Rob Ryan has built the #5 defense in the ENTIRE LEAGUE and play along. I'll leave open the possibility that despite turning THE WORST DEFENSE IN NFL HISTORY into THE FIFTH BEST IN THE LEAGUE, Rob Ryan doesn't know what he's doing with one specific player. By the way, I think Murf's statement is as irresponsible as stating Jimmy Graham doesn't deserve a new contract. Murf believes Vaccaro should be playing a more traditional role of safety.
Premise #1 – He only has one interception and it was a gift.
As previously stated, he had 5 picks in 51 games in college. He was never a ballhawk. Playing the traditional role of safety in college got him one pick every ten games… so far in the NFL he's steady with that same pace with the way Rob Ryan is using him. So he's treading water despite the position shift. And clearly he showed SOMETHING on the field to get drafted that high to begin with, even though it wasn't stats/interceptions. Changing his role or position won't change the fact that he's not really a high volume big play guy. We didn't draft Darren Sharper.
Premise #2 – His stats aren't as good as 4 players Murf designates as "premier"
First of all, Eric Reid and Tyrann Mathieu are on this list. I wouldn't call either player premier at this point. Secondly, Eric Reid and Earl Thomas are free safeties. They are center field ballhawks. Even if Vaccaro was switched to a traditional role, he's better suited as a strong in the place of Roman Harper, closer to the line of scrimmage. That's like comparing Jed Collins to Pierre Thomas. Different positions, different skillset, different responsibilities. Mark Barron is probably the most comparable player, and OH BY THE WAY VACCARO HAS MORE DEFENDED PASSES THAN HE DOES. The Honey Badger comparison is most funny to me, though, because he's actually being used in a very similar role to Vaccaro. He's being put in the slot, he's being put out wide in man coverage and he's being used in a "rover" role that gives him a variety of responsibilities. So I guess Murf is suggesting this role is perfect for Mathieu but all wrong for Vaccaro? If so, you can't really label Mathieu as a premiere "safety", right? Murf says "and the difference is the other players actually play safety". Clearly he hasn't been watching, because if Vaccaro isn't playing safety, then neither is Mathieu. And I can promise you this, as I saw it up close and personal when the Saints played the Cardinals: as many plays as the "premier" Mathieu is making, he's getting beat way more often than Vaccaro. For all the stats he's getting, what's not showing up is the times he hurts his team.
This, by the way, is so ridiculous because Murf labelled me a "stat geek" that never played the game (actually, I did). He should know there are more to a player's performances than sheer stats, and yet he decides Reid and Mathieu are better based purely on stats. No.
Further, this assumes that if he were used correctly he'd be a top 4 safety in the entire league. That's short of absurd. I hope that Vaccaro is a top 4 safety one day but it's far from given, but for the time being he's only played 10 games and i'll settle for him being "good" as a rookie. Expecting anything more this early in his development is what an unrealistic fan with no perspective does.
Premise #3 – Gametape! Video evidence!
This is my favorite part. He shows one picture of Vaccaro in a bad slot stance without ideal balance distribution. One! And he puts it against Corey White, who he applauds for having perfect technique. Yes, the same Corey White who was repeatedly embarrassed against the Falcons. Guess that perfect technique didn't work out so well, did it? Between these two guys I know who I'd feel better about covering Percy Harvin (hint: it's not White).
He then shows a picture of Vaccaro covering Vincent Jackson on a deep ball. The coverage was actually perfect on this one. He was in the right place, he just mis-timed his jump and blew it making a play on the ball.
Lastly, he shows a picture of Vaccaro undercutting a route too much as the last safety on the backline. I remember this play and he was beaten and the Saints were very fortunate Tom Brady overthrew his target. Two things about this: 1. I could show you three pictures of Drew Brees from this season that could easily make him look horrible. The pick six in the Tampa game and the throw to Ahmad Brooks come to mind. I can tell you if Kenny Vaccaro played a traditional safety position the thing we saw against Brady would happen more often. The Brady play is the only evidence he has to present this season because Vaccaro isn't left on an island alone on the back end almost ever. As a traditional safety he would have to deal with that responsibility more, something that doesn't suit his strengths. Kudos to Rob Ryan for putting him in positions to succeed!
What I do know about Vaccaro's play is this:
WEEK 1 he was assigned to shadow Tony Gonzalez all game. Gonzalez had 3 receptions for 36 yards, and Vaccaro won the game on a pass breakup in the end zone on the Falcons' final offensive play going to Gonzalez. That pass breakup won the game, but on the stat sheet it just gets labelled as one "PD". Stats aren't everything. He also delivered a remember me hit on Matt Ryan that was flagged, but made him gun shy for the remainder of the game.
WEEK 2 He did an admirable job in single coverage on Vincent Jackson, who ended with 5 catches for 77 yards. Do you remember what Jackson did to us last year when Vaccaro wasn't on the team?? I do.
WEEK 3 He gets an interception.
I can keep going if you want? Most recently he had 9 tackles in the box, many against Steven Jackson, to help stuff the Falcons' run game. This while making plays in coverage too.
The bottom line is Kenny Vaccaro is being used perfectly, and as a rookie just 10 games into his NFL career I think you have to feel really good about his progression. The only concern at this point is the two concussions suffered. Rob Ryan is putting him around the line of scrimmage and allowing him to do what he does best, play physical around the football. So congrats Murf, you got me to click by coming up with an absurd title. That's in keeping with the Bleacher Report model. What's also in keeping with the model is writing something that is completely devoid of football knowledge. But you got your web hit bro, so congrats.
Oh, and PS, Rob Ryan: keep doing what you're doing buddy.