Possible Detroit Lions Free Agent Targets: Safety Kenny Vaccaro

Embed from Getty Images

Kenny Vaccaro, Safety for the New Orleans Saints

Height: 6′

Weight: 214 pounds

Age: 28

2017 Stats: 59 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 7 passes defended

Career Stats: 384 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 8 interceptions, 29 passes defended

Career Overview

Kenny Vaccaro is a strong safety for the New Orleans Saints. He has proven throughout his career to be effective against both the run and pass.

Vaccaro was drafted by the Saints in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. He made an immediate impact as a rookie, recording 79 tackles, one sack, one interception, one forced fumble and seven passes defended in 14 games.

He would follow that up with an equally impressive 2014 season, this time making 75 tackles, one sack, two interceptions, and deflecting five passes.

2015 was the first season of Vaccaro’s career in which he started all 16 games. He set career highs with 104 tackles and three sacks that year but made no interceptions in the passing game.

Injuries forced Vaccaro to miss five games in 2016 but in the 11 games he was a part of, he managed to make his presence felt. He made 67 tackles, one sack, two interceptions and forced a fumble despite being banged up.

In 2017, Vaccaro had an impressive season with help of a much-improved Saints defense around him. He set a new career high in interceptions with three and matched his career best in passes defended with seven. Vaccaro is now set to hit free agency with his value relatively high after one of the best seasons of his career.

Positives

Kenny Vaccaro has lined up just about everywhere for the Saints: deep safety, cornerback, box safety, linebacker, edge. Vaccaro played pretty much anywhere New Orleans could think of to try him out. While he saw at least marginal success at all of these positions, where he has really consistently stood out is as an in-the-box-safety.

Here is a great play from Vaccaro where he played in the box (essentially meaning near the line of scrimmage or inside of the offensive tackles). Vaccaro lined up across from the New York Giants tight end on this play. Vaccaro did a great job of eluding blockers and bursting right into the backfield. Not only did he make a great wrap up tackle on the Giants running back but he was able to punch the ball loose, resulting in a turnover. Vaccaro is very strong against the run, as shown by this play.

https://twitter.com/gifaccount78/status/951553067417251841

Vaccaro also frequently brings this physicality into the passing game as well. On this play against the San Francisco 49ers, the 49er offense just tries to convert the first down with a quick pass to the running back. It appears to work initially but the Saints defense used fantastic teamwork to finish the play. A New Orleans cornerback held up the San Francisco running back, while Vaccaro came in and not only helped to make the tackle but ripped the football free, resulting in a turnover.

https://twitter.com/gifaccount78/status/951553739571253248

While Vaccaro is more inconsistent in pass coverage, he has shown the ability to excel there on occasion. On this play against the Panthers from week three, he showcases this. Vaccaro started the play as a deep safety on the bottom of the screen. He did a fantastic job of reading the routes of all of the Panthers receivers and trusted his instincts to cut across the field and jump the slot receiver’s route. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton never saw it coming and Vaccaro came away with an easy interception.

https://twitter.com/gifaccount78/status/951553871737999360

Negatives

If there’s a weakness to Kenny Vaccaro’s game, it is pass coverage. While he does make the occasional big play in coverage, he also gets beaten more often than you would like. Here is an example.

This play is from a big game in 2017 between the Rams and Saints. The Saints were missing their top two cornerbacks in this game, so it was key that Vaccaro step up his game to mitigate that loss. Instead, he had a weak performance, highlighted by this play where Rams rookie receiver Cooper Kupp beat him for a big gain. Kupp got lots of separation early on this play and got even more wide open when Vaccaro appeared to lose the ball in the air. After that, Vaccaro just lightly jogged after Kupp, not making much of an effort to stop him.

https://twitter.com/gifaccount78/status/951554069159661569

When Kenny Vaccaro had to play without a strong surrounding cast of players, his play noticeably declined in 2017. Vaccaro was much more able to just play to his strengths when he had Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley helping to cover the pass. While most players do struggle when they have weaker teammates around them, this is still something notable about Vaccaro.

Should The Lions Sign Him?

The defensive secondary was arguably the biggest strength of the Lions in 2017. So, Lions fans may be asking why the team would consider signing a safety? Well, cornerbacks DJ Hayden and Nevin Lawson and safeties Tavon Wilson and Don Carey are all free agents this offseason. While it’s not likely that all of them will leave, it is also very unlikely that all of them will stay.

After starting safety Tavon Wilson was placed on injured reserve, nickel corner Quandre Diggs moved to strong safety and had success there. It is possible that the Lions choose to keep Diggs at the strong safety position, which would make signing Kenny Vaccaro pointless.

However, if Wilson leaves in free agency and either Hayden or Lawson leaves, the Lions will likely need Diggs to return to the cornerback position. If this is the case, a new strong safety would be needed. That is where Vaccaro comes in.

Looking at safety salaries around the league, Tyrann Mathieu is the highest paid at $14.1 million per year. Vaccaro would not command a contract anywhere near that high but he may fall into the Tony Jefferson/Jimmy Ward/Mike Mitchell range of $8-9 million per year. If Vaccaro agreed to play for the Lions for that salary, it could be a good deal for both sides, giving the Lions one of the best safety tandems in the league.

Thanks for reading! If you would like to request a pending NFL free agent for my next profile, contact me on Twitter @lucasjwalker00. Lastly, don’t forget to pay a visit to the Detroit Lions Subreddit!

Like this? Please click here and support our site via Patreon!

More From The Detroit Lions Podcast