The Tennessee Titans signed Kenny Vaccaro to replace injured safety Johnathan Cyprien, adding another talented player to a fairly underrated secondary.
The contract terms haven’t been disclosed yet, so that will be updated once released.
Kenny Vaccaro was drafted in the first round by the New Orleans Saints as the first safety off the board and finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting. Coincidentally, he was picked a few spots ahead of Eric Reid, another fan favorite to replace Cyprien.
There are two numbers that really stand out with his combine workout, which are the 20 yard shuttle, and three cone drill. Here is why they are important.
This article from the Sporting News highlights some of the importance with drills for each positions, and you can see how safeties are ranked in terms of 20 yard shuttles and 3 cone drills. Click here for link:
It’s important to note that the 40 yard dash is also highlighted, but has more impact on free safeties, rather than strong safeties such as Vaccaro, since Byard will play the role of roaming safety.
20 Yard Shuttle: The drill is designed to measure a player’s ability to change directions and explosiveness off the line, which are crucial for safeties as they follow offensive players around the field. For example, if a strong safety is matched up on a tight end up the seam, the offensive player usually gets a few yards of cushion off the line. Once the offensive player eats up the cushion, the defender has to react to an entire route tree of options. If you turn your hips to the inside, then you are exposed to the out route, and vice versa. It’s paramount that the defender read the opposing players’ hips and then react, therefore a safety that can change directions quickly has an inherent advantage. According to MockDraftable, Kenny Vaccaro scored a 20 yard shuttle of 4.06 seconds, placing him in the 87th percentile of safeties. For comparison, Cyprien scored a low number of 4.44 seconds, which qualified in the 7th percentile.
3 Cone Drill: This is another change of direction workout, and once again the most important aspect of being a strong safety is changing directions in tight spaces. Kenny Vaccaro had a score of 6.78 seconds, which placed him in the 81st percentile of safeties, while Cyprien scored 7.01, which was in the 48th percentile. As you can see with these two drills, Vaccaro probably has more physical talent against Cyprien when it comes to the strong safety position.
It would be negligent of me to not mention some of Vaccaro’s shortcomings as well when it comes to physical profile.
40 Yard Dash: Vaccaro scored a 4.63 seconds, which was in the 27th percentile, compared to 4.5 of Cyprien, which was in the 77th percentile. I think in terms of safeties; the 40 yard is much more important for free safeties because they tend to cover a lot of ground over the top. Think of it as the speedy center fielder in baseball, where the range is much more dependent on speed. For example, Kevin Byard scored a 4.46 on his 40 yard dash, and he’s firmly entrenched as the free safety. I don’t want it to seem like I’m cherry picking stats to show Vaccaro as the better athlete to Cyprien, but pointing out that his strengths are better suited for the position he will play with the Titans.
As you probably know by now, Vaccaro thrived under former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, and then declined last year. Here is a snippet from Bleacher Report that I found interesting:
Every quarterback in the league has to worry about pressure from the defense, but Ryan brings it with intensity and regularity. Because he does such a good job of disguising his pass-rush options until the very last minute, quarterbacks take a fraction of a second longer to throw the football. That leads to the quarterback being in duress more often or the timing being off on passing routes, leading to frequent incomplete passes.
The pre-snap movement and disguising of pass-rush lanes sure does help versus the passing game, but these tactics also can help defend against the run. If the defense is constantly moving before the snap, it could make it difficult for the offensive line to properly key on the middle linebacker, therefore rendering blocking assignments less effective or even missed.
If the second level of the defense is going to move around and fill in lanes for the running back after the snap, it forces the running back to make reads a step later than normal, which could slow his ability to break off a long run.
Now, here is a snippet from Bleacher Report on Dean Pees:
The Ravens went 8-8 last season and missed the playoffs for the second straight year, which obscured the outstanding job defensive coordinator Dean Pees did. Baltimore ranked sixth in Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted metrics for team defense and 10th against the pass, which was especially impressive given the fact that top cornerback Jimmy Smith struggled to stay healthy.
One thing that has elevated Baltimore’s pass defense is Pees’ use of disguised coverages. It’s something every NFL team does to some degree, but the Ravens are especially good at showing one coverage pre-snap and then altering it as the defensive backs start to move.
Safeties Eric Weddle and Lardarius Webb are big parts of that disguise, as each can play both strong and free positions. And the addition of free-agent veteran safety Tony Jefferson will add additional wrinkles. Jefferson comes from an Arizona defense in which safeties are asked to play multiple positions and help with different disguised coverages.
Whether it’s an invert—where the quarterback expects a shallow cornerback and deep safety and gets the opposite—or a two-deep man coverage look that somehow shifts to Cover 2 zone after the snap, Pees’ disguise concepts are among the league’s most advanced and effective.
No less an expert than Bill Belichick has said that Pees, his defensive coordinator in New England from 2006-2009, does a “good job of keeping you off-balance.”
“They’re not going to sit there in one thing all day,” Belichick said last December, per Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com. “They’ve never done that. They’re going to change up the looks on you.”
As you can see, both defensive coordinators are lauded for disguising defenses extremely well, which causes confusion for quarterbacks. The interesting aspect in the Pees’ snippet is the ability of then safeties Weddle and Webb to be interchangeable. I don’t think Vaccaro will be a good free safety because he lacks the top end speed, which would leave the defense susceptible to deep routes. However, the short area quickness can definitely help change defensive outlooks at the last minute, which should help him fit right in with his defensive coordinator.
These are the overall scores for Kenny Vaccaro from PFF throughout his years with the Saints.
2013: 82.6 (He ranked 13th among 87 safeties)
2014: 42.8 (He ranked 83rd among 86 safeties)
2015: 80.0 (He ranked 21st among 89 safeties)
2016: 79.9 (He ranked 38th among 90 safeties)
2017: 50.3 (He ranked as the 84th safety)
From those numbers, Vaccaro dabbles between a reasonably good safety to absolutely atrocious. However, in 2014, Vaccaro suffered a groin injury, but tried to play through it. Eventually, he landed on the IR, which would explain his low rankings. Last year, Vaccaro suffered another groin injury that led to another IR stint, which also caused his grades to be lowered. If we take out those injury riddled years, then he becomes a reliably good safety again. It is also worth noting that the Saints signed Jarius Byrd to play free safety in 2014, but he was promptly injured. While a major bust as a signing, partially due to horrible tackling, he was decent as a cover safety. Byrd was a bust for sure, but playing with a safety that had range helped Vaccaro play decent as well in his non-roaming role. However, this argument does not extend to last year, where Marcus Williams played to the tune of the 6th ranked safety, albeit the lasting image of him remains whiffing on the tackle of Stephon Diggs in the playoff game.
Let’s go to the film to see what Vaccaro brings to the table.
On this play from 2013, he’s lined up in the slot with a match up on tight end Greg Olsen, a player I talked about in our last article pertaining to Delanie Walker. Notice how quickly Vaccaro recognizes the play, and then closes the gap on the tackle, preventing Olsen from accumulating any sort of momentum. As a strong safety, it’s vital that he recognizes quick strike throws, even though the QB is looking away from his area at the start.
Let’s look at a play against the Titans from 2015 to highlight run defense. Vaccaro is tasked with mirroring Craig Stevens on this play, and you can see him following the tight end across the formation. The important thing to notice here is how the safety sets the edge, forcing the running back to cut inside, and right into the teeth of the defense. Notice how he beats the offensive tackle to the edge, because that’s a good example of short area quickness. The offense expected to have enough time for the tackle to disrupt the pursuit angle, but Vaccaro was just too fast to the edge, and he maintained contain. Aside from Vaccaro, I want you to notice Jalston Fowler (45) on this play. He’s in the backfield and I wanted to highlight the impotence of the Mike Mularkey offense. The offensive line is sliding to their right, the run is to the right, yet Fowler is called to block the back end of the play, when it’s absolutely useless. He should be blocking to his right, so he can try and create a cutback lane, instead of blocking the back-end, which would only come into play if the run falls apart. It doesn’t matter on this play, but I don’t understand the line of thinking with that blocking assignment. It would make sense if Mariota is rolling out to the left on play action, but this is just useless blocking.
Did I mention short area quickness? Watch this move on Delanie Walker, who has him set up perfectly for a block. Vaccaro makes Walker tackle air on the play, tackles the runner, and as an added bonus gets a fumble which is recovered by the Saints. The short area quickness is reminiscent of a cross over in basketball, and he shows great situational awareness.
Have I mentioned short area quickness yet? This is an interception by Vaccaro, and notice how quickly he pounces on the pass by Jared Goff in 2016. Now, granted Goff makes the wrong read here since he has a wide-open receiver running to the outside, but Vaccaro is reading the eyes of the QB and jumps the pass. As a strong safety, it’s paramount that he can take advantage of his speed in tight spaces and quick reaction times.
I don’t want to make Kenny Vaccaro out to be a total stud that should be a Pro-Bowl level player in the league, with this article. He certainly has his flaws, as highlighted below:
Deep Speed: Kenny Vaccaro just doesn’t have the deep speed to stay with receivers down the field, so don’t expect him to be a roaming safety covering large areas of grass. That’s Kevin Byard’s job. Vaccaro has the speed to cover tight ends and running backs, but he’s not shutting down slot receivers without help, because he’s too vulnerable down the field.
PED Suspension: He was suspended for PEDs in 2016, which he attributed to Adderall. The Adderall excuse is the same as “there was too much traffic, hence why I was late” excuse in real life.
Injuries: He has had problems with his groin in two separate years, which had led to season ending predicaments.
Stagnation: Vaccaro came into the league with a lot of promise and lived up to the billing at first, but hasn’t quite progressed as people have hoped. Part of it is circumstances such as injuries and roster mismatches, but it is concerning that he never took the next step.
Lack of interest: While teams brought him in for workouts, he stayed on the market for an awful long time. Eric Reid is also on the market, but part of the reason could be attributed to controversy around kneeling for the anthem.
In conclusion, Kenny Vaccaro is an excellent signing for the Tennessee Titans to replace Johnathan Cyprien this year. He’s a low risk/high reward player, most likely on a one year contract. He has the physical tools to be an excellent strong safety and fits in extremely well with Kevin Byard. Fans should definitely be excited, and cross their fingers that he stays healthy.
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Primarily, I work as a real estate agent at Keller Williams Realty in Franklin, Tennessee. I’ve lived in Nashville for almost a decade now, and my love for the city only grows deeper, like a 440 pothole. I follow the Titans closely, so I enjoy writing about the team and breaking down film. However, my main job consists of being a real estate agent, therefore if you need any kind of help with the sale/purchase of a home, I’d be happy to help you through the process. If you just want to talk about real estate, feel free to email me as well. I write a real estate blog as well, which I’ll leave a link to at the bottom of this section (as well as a few other places on the website) so please check it out.
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