Hello Who Dat Nation, welcome back to the Rookie Run-Down! While the New Orleans Saints finished the season with a strong win against Tampa Bay to lock up a playoff spot, there were some bumps along the road in getting there. The bumps included a significant injury to a standout rookie during a two game skid that saw the Saints give up the division lead and number 2 seed to the Carolina Panthers. After the dismal 7-9 record in the 2012 season, a return to the playoffs is a welcome sight to Saints fans all over! This week we'll look at the rookie performances over the last 3 weeks of the regular season and get some final statistics. Soon to follow will be a season recap of the undrafted free agent rookies as well. Upon completion of the playoffs, we'll take one last look the rookies of 2013 and see what type of impact each made on the playoff run.
Kenny Vaccaro, S
As all Saints fans are aware, Kenny Vaccaro is a bonafide baller! The first 15 weeks of the season demonstrated that the Saints did a good job when they selected Vaccaro because his impact was instant. Unfortunately, early in the second match up versus the Carolina Panthers, Vaccaro was lost for the season to a broken ankle. The loss of Vaccaro is another in the string bad luck that first impacted the front seven in OTAs and has worked its way the secondary throughout the season, claiming Patrick Robinson and Jabari Greer along the way, while also limiting Rafael Bush at mid-season and Roman Harper to start the season. Vaccaro’s absence was felt almost immediately when he left the Panthers game. Get well soon Kenny; we need you at 100% next season!
Week 15-17 Performance: Prior to his injury, Vaccaro was a beast! In a losing effort against the St. Louis Rams, Vaccaro had six tackles including 5 solo. In the NFC South championship game the following week, the worst that could happen did – Vaccaro’s ankle was broken on a routine tackle when he got caught under a pile of bodies. As I watched the bodies come off the pile, I knew something was wrong instantly and the air cast confirmed my worst fears. The game was broadcast in Spanish in my area but I didn’t need the announcers to tell me it was a serious injury. An indication of Vaccaro’s impact was on display just before half time as Harper (manning Vaccaro’s SS role) played out of position and allowed a long TD run by Deangelo Williams, a TD that gave the Panthers a lead on a day when their offense struggled mightily.
Vaccaro’s season totals: Through 14 1/4 games played – 60 solo tackles, 17 assisted, 77 total, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 6 passes defended, & 1 interception
Terron Armstead, OT
We have an Armstead sighting folks! After 15 weeks of football, Terron Armstead was given his opportunity to start for the Saints. Uh oh! After Robert Quinn of the Rams used and abused Charles Brown in a 27-16 loss, Sean Payton had seen enough and benched Brown in favor of Armstead. Looking at the bigger picture, it seems like the right move, but in a vacuum, starting Armstead versus the Panthers was a head-scratcher to most fans. Here is the basis for the argument: while Quinn schooled Brown, old Charlie held his own in the first match against the Panthers – why not keep him in there for one more game? The ideal time to introduce Armstead would have been against a much weaker opponent in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As the story goes, Greg Hardy sacked Drew Brees 3 times and Armstead also was charged with two false start penalties. The second half consisted of Armstead receiving help from the FB and TEs, but the damage was done. Terron has the potential to be a solid OT, given the time and opportunity to develop. He was baptized by fire!
Week 15-17 Performance: Armstead watched from the bench as Brown took his lumps again against the Rams. Freshly inserted at left tackle versus the Panthers, Hardy handed out a few lumps to Armstead early and then mellowed out once Armstead was given help. In the season finale against the Bucs, Armstead was able to hold his spot and only surrendered one sack to Adrian Clayborn – the Bucs only sack of the day. Going forward, this late season experience will benefit Armstead because it will be a good gauge of what he does well and what he needs to work on in the off season.
Johnathan Jenkins, NT
John Jenkins was a steal in the 3rd round of the draft. In all honesty, moving Chris Ivory to get an extra pick in the round seems to be paying off nicely. While the Saints picked up a much needed 3-4 defensive lineman, they unloaded an under-used RB. Winning!!! In the home stretch of the season Jenkins’ production tapered off statistically, but his contribution is not always reflected in raw stats. He holds the point of attack well and absorbs blocks, allowing linebackers to run free and make tackles – a big reason why Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne are the leading tacklers. If Jenkins can stay in shape and develop some power moves, he may start to produce many tackles for loss and substantial sack totals.
Week 15-17 Performance: In order for the stats to come for a NT, the player needs to be on the field a lot. Unfortunately for Jenkins, he is behind Broderick Bunkley on the depth chart and Rob Ryan uses multiple fronts that do not require a NT. With that said, against the Rams Jenkins had one tackle, followed by two versus the Panthers. In the blowout finale against the Bucs, Jenkins made no statistical impact. John Jenkins is an effort guy from what I have seen this season so I expect him to flourish going forward in his career.
Jenkins’ season totals: 13 solo tackles, 8 assisted and 21 total tackles
Kenny Stills, WR
Kenny Stills is a legitimate deep threat, which is clear based on his receiving average. Brees has taken notice and when he does target Stills, it is often downfield. This is a double edged sword for the Saints because while Stills has the speed to get deep on defenses, he does not have the veteran savvy to make a play on a regular basis. Another issue that is an ongoing storyline is that Stills will go completely off the radar and not contribute at all. Weighing the good versus the bad with this young player, the potential is there for Stills to make some noise in the future. Stills has outperformed my greatest expectations and also surpassed the standard set by Joseph Morgan a season ago. When Stills was selected in the fifth round, many at CSC did not expect much more than warm body to fill out the roster. In my humble opinion, Stills has done far more than that this season. I must say that I predicted Stills might breakout in the middle of the season.
Week 15-17 Performance: In my last update, I expressed my concerns with Stills not being targeted. After further review, I still believe that Stills should be getting more targets, but not just shots down the field. He has shown that he can make the tough catches underneath and keep the chains moving. Against the Rams, Stills tied his season high for catches with 4 for 47 yards in a bad game for the entire team. He followed up the in the next game with his usual 2 catches for 20 something yards. In the season finale against the Bucs, Stills had 1 catch - but it was for a 76 yard touchdown. There is some growth on the horizon for Stills and he has most assuredly locked up a spot on the roster for next season.
Stills’ 2013 totals: 32 catches for 641 yards, 5 TD, 3 carries for 10 yards
Rufus Johnson, LB
With all 16 regular season games in the books, Rufus has officially held onto his red-shirt for 2013. See ya next fall buddy!
Week 15-17 Performance: Practice Squad, DNP