Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro is a very versatile defensive back, perhaps the most of all his peers. He’s played all over the field, whether it’s deep as a split-field safety, alone in the middle of the field, or manning up receivers in the slot. This versatility is one of the key reasons why most, including me, are high on the Longhorns defender.
His most impressive game this past season came against arguably this draft’s most dynamic weapon, West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin. In that October game, Vaccaro brilliantly shadowed Austin with great man-under technique in the Longhorns’ Cover 2 Man (Man Under) coverage concept. He was disciplined with his feet and hips and contributed in run defense. He was nearly flawless in coverage, as I wrote for Rotoworld afterwards.
At the end of that article, I noted that Vaccaro still needs work in run support. Against Oklahoma State, he took poor angles, one of which resulted in a long touchdown run when he came down from a deep alignment. As the season went on, more poor angles came from Vaccaro.
The majority of Vaccaro’s questionable paths to the ball-carrier come when he’s running down from a deep alignment. He frequently ends up being too wide of the runner, thus allowing an inside path for the ball-carrier, or too narrow, giving up the outside. Both can be maddening to watch, especially when he allows the runner to go to a place where he doesn’t have help. An example came against Kansas State.
Before the snap, Texas has two deep safeties, one of which is Vaccaro (circled). The split-field safeties are just window dressing. When the ball snaps, they will doubly rotate, with Vaccaro coming down as a flat defender in the Longhorns’ Cover 3 concept. His responsibility is to run to the outside and ensure that ball-carrier is forced back towards the middle of the field, if he runs in his direction.
When the running back gets the ball, he runs downhill and quickly weaves outside of the right hash. Simultaneously, Vaccaro’s coming into the box. He’s supposed to be taking a wider angle than he does because of his previously mentioned instructions. Because of the angle, the running back is able to keep working further outside instead of being forced inside.
The biggest issue now is that there’s no help outside. The cornerback dropping with a deep cushion isn’t responsible for playing the run in this coverage. The “run fit” dictates that he’s not a factor because the “force” defender — Vaccaro — is the outside edge-setter. With Vaccaro not outside, there’s no one to stop the running back from picking up a first down. He attempted to slow him down but could not, as he tried to wrap his arms around the shoulders.
One of the biggest factors in evaluating safeties is seeing if they are trustworthy. Can they make a play on the pass when they need to? And can they make the tackle when needed?
I’m not sure if Kenny Vaccaro is right now, despite his immense physical talent that’s reminiscent a bit of the Houston Texans’ Glover Quin. He’s not reliable as a tackler and he’s also taken false steps as a single-high safety. Both issues are deemed fixable via coaching, which is true, but not all players can be “fixed”, which may be concerning for a rumored Top 10 selection.