The New Orleans Saints entered the 2013 NFL Draft with a need to improve defensively. The primary problem facing the Saints was not a lack of available talent in the draft, but a lack of available draft picks. As the draft began on April 25th, the front office had only five draft picks at their disposal. The Saints would go on to use their first and third round picks as scheduled and then trade the fourth round pick to get back into the third for another pick. The fifth and sixth rounds would see New Orleans stand pat at their scheduled position and finish up their 2013 draft.
At this point, every Saints fan knows that the team selected Kenny Vaccaro, Terron Armstead, Jonathan Jenkins, Kenny Stills, and Rufus Johnson. But what do we all really know about each player? While it's easy to perform a Google search and find pre-draft analysis and video of Vaccaro, Jenkins, and Stills, it is much harder to gather in-depth facts about Armstead and Johnson. Going forward, I will be introducing each player to the CSC community so we can all get to know each player and attempt to speculate about how each player will perform when his time comes. I like to call this the ‘Rookie Run-Down.'
Every other week we will take a look at how each player performed at the collegiate level and how those skills will translate to his NFL performance. This analysis will include finding a way to identify what the player should do for the Saints specifically, not just how he should do at the pro level. The key here is to look at the players on the team around the rookie and assess how the player will develop throughout the season based on actual playing time and the mentoring he will receive throughout the season. Once the regular season begins, I will provide a weekly update on how the rookies are performing. This will also be an opportunity to compare these rookies to their first-year counterparts on other teams, based on playing time, meaningful snaps, and actual role on the team.
This week, we take a closer look at the new Kennys, Vaccaro and Stills!
Let's get started with the No. 15 overall pick. Vaccaro is 6'0" tall, weighs 214 pounds and was drafted from the University of Texas. Considered a versatile defender, Vaccaro is listed as a safety with no designation between being a free safety or strong safety. What does this mean for the Saints? It means that Vaccaro can cover wide receivers or tight ends while also being able to come up near the line of scrimmage and support the run. Many will say that a players' collegiate performance is not a definitive example of how he will perform at the professional level, but in reality, it is a clear indicator of the player's skill set.
At UT in Austin, Vaccaro was a Swiss army knife, being used to support the run, cover slot receivers, and also manage the deep third of the field. In the 2012 season, the Texas defense experienced an odd amount of injuries to the linebacker corps early in the year which changed the defense's philosophy going forward. This impacted the way that Vaccaro was used and his 2012 season is not indicative of his overall performance in college. We can reasonably expect Vaccaro to cover tight ends much better than the incumbent Roman Harper, while also providing versatility in the secondary with formations that include three safeties in the game at once. Looking ahead, imagine Malcolm Jenkins, Harper, and Vaccaro all in the lineup at once. With an extra safety in the game in Vaccaro, opposing quarterbacks will have to quickly diagnose which safety is coming on the blitz, if any at all. The results could be exciting!
Now, let's take a look at the other side of the ball, the explosive Saints offense, and rookie Kenny Stills. "Pretty Boy" Kenny also stands 6'0" tall and weighs in at 194 pounds, fresh from the University of Oklahoma. These are the obvious facts, but as it turns out, Stills started at WR for the Sooners as a true freshman and every game that he appeared in the Crimson and Cream (total of 38). During those starts, Stills caught 60 or more passes in each of his three seasons at OU while accumulating over 700 yards each year. We can possibly account his production to his pedigree as Kenny's father and uncle both played in the NFL.
Entering the draft, Stills was seen as a sure-handed burner who could line up in the slot and stretch the field. For New Orleans, Stills provides a deep threat to replace the recently departed Devery Henderson. A quick comparison of Stills and Henderson reveals a similarity in stature and overall speed coming out of college. The edge as a pass catcher would go to Stills because he is a career receiver, while Henderson was converted to WR after his freshman and sophomore seasons as a running back at LSU.
This catching trait in Stills will pay dividends for the pass-happy Saints offense because Drew Brees loves to use every weapon at his disposal. Finding the opportunities to shine will be tougher for Stills than Vaccaro because the WR core is loaded with young, talented players of varying skill sets. If Stills can work his way into the number 3 or 4 WR spot, his opportunities will come early and often. If current starters Marques Colston and Lance Moore are set to man the number 1 and 2 spots, Stills would be great in the slot or outside, a similar role to his positioning in the Sooners offense. Expect a breakout performance by mid-season and don't be surprised if Stills becomes one of Drew's favorite targets!
In the next installment of Rookie Run-Down: Jonathan Jenkins and Terron Armstead