METAIRIE, La. — Eight days ago, Kenny Vaccaro pressed send on his phone, shooting out a picture on Twitter of the Saints’ indoor facility, with the tag, “Saints indoor.. Might be here in two weeks?”
Maybe he knew something no one else did.
“It was my last visit and I had a real good feeling walking out of there that I might be a Saint,” Vaccaro said minutes after being picked by New Orleans with the No. 15 pick. “I’m excited to get down there and play some football.”
The Saints went with their first safety since taking Chip Vaughn in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL draft and Vaccaro is the first Texas player New Orleans has taken since drafting Ricky Williams in 1999.
Vaccaro is the 10th defensive back taken since 2006 by New Orleans, an acknowledgement that the Saints haven’t figured out the vexing position group.
The move gives the Saints depth at safety as Vaccaro has the ability to play both free and strong safety as well as the nickel. He worked at all three positions at Texas and said that was one of his strengths, something that stood out according to Saints coach Sean Payton.
“One of the things that was attractive about this player is he can do that and he has that versatility to play not only safety but he has that versatility to play down over the slot,” Payton said.
New Orleans passed on upgrading at linebacker and along the defensive line, a move some would describe as head-scratching with so many uncertainties there. The Saints had an opportunity to draft linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree along with defensive tackles Shariff Floyd and Sylvester Williams.
Payton said two players, including Vaccaro, were left on the team’s draft board when their pick came up. He declined to identify the other player, however.
Additionally, in spite of lacking a second round selection, New Orleans didn’t attempt to make any moves to grab more picks.
“We didn’t want to move down,” he said. “We would have wanted to move down possibly if those players weren’t available.”
The move, meanwhile, raises questions about Roman Harper’s future and whether it’s at safety, another position or with another team. Harper is set to make $5.25 million this year while counting more than $7 million against the salary cap.
Payton didn’t give Harper a ringing endorsement Thursday night, saying all positions will be open for competition.
“I’m not going to speculate,” Payton said. “But you guys can. I think this – we’re going to have competition at both safety spots. We’re going to have competition at the nickel position. This is a good young football player that will add to our defense and we’ll see what happens.”
Regardless, Thursday night was about Vaccaro and his ability to beef up New Orleans’ much-maligned secondary. The Saints gave up an NFL record 7,042 total yards this past season.
Vaccaro’s NFL-distributed biography describes him as having the body type of a “Cover-2 linebacker with the closing speed and downhill ability to attack the line of scrimmage to plug the rush lanes.”
The 6-foot, 214-pound senior out of Texas finished with 264 career tackles and was a part of forcing 10 turnovers – five interceptions, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
His lack of interceptions is deceptive, he explained, because he spent much of his time holding down the slot receiver.
“A lot of times, when maybe an interception was thrown, it was because I was locking up the slot receiver on the other side of the field,” Vaccaro said. “I actually got offers to Texas as a receiver when I first got there. My ball skills are pretty good.”
One of the reasons he stood out to Payton was because of the job he did helping cover spread offenses in the Big XII, including West Virginia and receiver Tavon Austin, whom the Rams traded up to pick at No. 8 Thursday night. He also faced the read-option, the newest offense to take over the NFL.
“That’s a real good look,” Payton said of Texas’ game against West Virginia. “It’s hard to say there was a lot of real great defense in that game because of that score. But you get to see him do some things in that game that were real impressive.”