This is the fourth in a 20-part series examining some possibilities for the Browns in the 2013 NFL Draft, including extensive looks at the most likely prospects for the No. 6 overall selection, potential targets later in the draft, trade-down scenarios, what the other teams in the AFC North might do and the top players coming out of Ohio State and the Mid-American Conference.
Each morning will bring a new, daily posting leading up the NFL Scouting Combine on Feb 20.
Today, we spend Super Bowl Sunday looking at the best safety on the board, one with perhaps an outside chance at creeping into the top 10 picks but who recently shot up one draft analyst's rankings and could be gaining momentum.
Kenny Vaccaro, Texas, Senior
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1, 218 pounds.
2012 Stats: 87 tackles, two interceptions.
Current overall prospect ranks: NFLDraftScout.com 13th; ESPN's Todd McShay: 7th; Scout's Inc: 10th; ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr: 17th.
Current projected draft position: At the moment, Vaccaro is rated in the top dozen or so prospects and is clearly the best safety in the class and is either the best or the second best defensive back. Still, he isn't projected to be drafted in the top 15. NFLDraftScout.com's Dane Brugler has the St. Louis Rams taking Vaccaro at No. 22 overall. Kiper also has the Rams taking him, albeit with their first pick at No. 16. NFLDraftScout.com's Rob Rang has Vaccaro falling all the way to No. 29 to the New England Patriots. McShay has him as the 19th pick, though his mock draft was done before the final draft order was set.
Overview: Vaccaro broke onto the scene as a special-teams star at Texas, blocking a punt and forcing a fumble his freshman season. As a sophomore, he earned a starting role at safety and had 56 tackles, an interception and blocked another kick. As a junior, he earned first-team all-conference honors with 82 tackles, including eight tackles for a loss and two sacks, eight passes broken up and two interceptions. He then elected to forego the draft and as a senior (he reportedly had a second-round grade) and had nearly identical production with 87 tackles and two picks after returning to Texas. He also showed solid durability, appearing in 38 games and not missing any significant time. He was once charged for misdemeanor assault after being involved in a fight with another student at Texas.
What they're saying: Has been the quarterback of Texas' defense for two seasons. ... Possesses elite balance and explosiveness for his position. ... Maintains good leverage in backpedal and is loose in his hips, enabling him to change directions instantly. ... Can turn and run with receivers downfield, essentially serving as a third cornerback at times. ... Closes quickly and has an extra gear. ... Can handle middle of the field responsibilities and holds up well against tight ends and slot receivers. ... Has very good but not elite ball skills. ... Instincts and range make him a possible playmaker in coverage. ... Takes quality angles to the ball and can high-point the throw. ... Generally a sound tackler that does a nice job of wrapping up. ... Diagnostic skills are strong, shows good awareness when aligned in the back as the last line of defense. ... Reads quarterbacks well and gets good breaks on the ball. ... Biggest concerns are his angles to the ball in run support, though closing burst allows him to get away with it at times.
NFLDraftScout.com player comparison: N/A.
Why he fits the Browns' needs: Make no mistake that at this point in time, Vaccaro is one of the long shots to make it all the way up to No. 6 overall to the Browns. But he is the best safety in this draft class by far, and he's a wizard in coverage. The free safety spot opposite T.J. Ward has been a sore spot in recent years for the Browns, filled with late-round draft picks or journeymen, and Vaccaro would be an instant upgrade to a secondary that needs help. After watching additional film on Vaccaro, McShay moved him from a No. 16 overall ranking all the way up to No. 7 overall, saying he was "blown away with his athleticism and fluidity." And as McShay points out, with more and more NFL offenses spreading the field with three- and four-receiver sets, that level of coverage ability is a major asset to defenses in a pass-happy league. Should the Browns feel they can either find the linebackers they need to run a 3-4 elsewhere, don't feel comfortable with anyone that high in the draft or decide who they need is already on the roster, Vaccaro fits a position of need and is head and shoulders above any other safety in this class.