CSR Manager's Note: Please welcome Curry Shoff as a Contributing Author on CSR. Curry comes over from SBN's UT blog so he knows his Longhorns very well. Curry is also a Charlotte native hence his Panther love. I am certainly looking forward to more of his work.
Entering the offseason, the Panthers needed to address the gaping holes in the secondary. They have made a few moves that are more short term answers rather than long term solutions. Sitting at fourteen, Carolina has a variety of options from which they can choose. With different analysts suggesting different positions, it is hard to gauge just what that pick is going to look like on draft day, though the obvious favorite has become defensive tackle.
One option that the Panthers should consider is Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro. The consensus choice for top safety in the draft, Vaccaro brings a lot of intangibles that the Panthers could utilize.
Vertical Jump: 38"
- 96 total tackles, averaging 7.38 tackles per game
- 2 Interceptions
- 2 FF
- 12 PBU
Vaccaro was a bright spot on what has been considered the worst Texas defense in the last twenty years. Because of piss poor linebacker play, Vaccaro was essential in stopping the opponents rushing attack as well as managing an inexperienced secondary. A very physical hitter, Vaccaro is often described as a linebacker trapped in a safety’s body.
His versatility as an athlete allowed defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to play him as the nickel during certain offensive sets. He excels in zone coverage with a keen ability to read routes. Though his forty time does not "wow" anybody, he has solid football speed and held his own in man coverage. Vaccaro’s athleticism made him the best player on the field. His most memorable play as a Longhorn was this sack against California in the 2012 Holiday Bowl.
The stigma of being a linebacker in a safety’s body has some negative connotations, as well. Vaccaro is not known for being a game-changer or a playmaker. In his three seasons as a serious contributor to the defense, Vaccaro only had five interceptions. This season he was a bit over aggressive at times, though that is not entirely his fault, as the entire defense relied on him to stop both the run and the pass in most games. His tackling technique needs improvement. Against Ole Miss, he took out QB Bo Wallace with this hit, and you can see his first instinct isn’t to wrap up.
The best video you will see of Vaccaro is his highlight reel against Oklahoma State, the first conference game of the year for the Longhorns (see below). In the video, both his strengths and weaknesses are on display. Some of the highlights are more obvious (e.g. - Getting juked out on that big run play, taking that ball away from the receiver for the INT) but to see how Vaccaro truly impacts the game, watch how he blows up certain plays.
At the 1:27 mark, he explodes through two blocks on a bubble screen and turns the receiver in, where Texas stops him for a loss. Conversely, on the same play at the 2:18 mark, he goes too far up the field and opens a major hole for the receiver.
My biggest concern with Vaccaro at the next level is his ability to stay with elite NFL receivers down the field. His speed is good, but he doesn’t have the explosiveness that a lot of NFL defensive backs need to stay with receivers. Off the field, Vaccaro has had some issues in the past, but turned into the Longhorn’s biggest team leader this season.
What he means for Carolina
At fourteen, I would consider Vaccaro a reach for the Panthers, depending on what other talent is available. The Panthers needed secondary players badly before the Mitchell and Moore signings. Since we can all agree that Munnerlyn is not the answer, either, the future of our secondary core is still an uncertainty. Vaccaro fills a void and could develop into a reliable safety.
Vaccaro has mixed reviews from the NFL analysts, going as high as 10 to the Titans, and as a low as the second round. It is likely that if he falls to eighteen, the Cowboys would pick him up and use him to fill the spot most recently held by UNC’s Gerald Sensabaugh. If that is the case, the Panthers could leverage a trade from a team with a lot of picks and secondary needs.
With 14 picks in the upcoming draft, the San Francisco 49ers would be the easiest team to target for a trade. They have very little depth in the secondary, and with the loss of Dashon Goldson, they are in the market for a new free safety. Flipping 14 for 31 and maybe a fourth or fifth round pick would allow the Panthers to fulfill more of their needs.
There are other options at safety, however this isn’t the most talented class we have seen at the position. One option the Panthers could consider would be Eric Reid from LSU in the second round, though his combine numbers were excellent and may have shot him into the first round.
Really, anything would make me more comfortable than having Nakamura back there this season. If the Panthers are going to draft any Texas Longhorns this year, I’d like to see Marquise Goodwin in Charlotte. He scored on 15% of his touches this season, and had he actually been fully utilized, would probably be a much higher pick.