The Saints’ historically bad defense last season:
- Dead last in yards, allowing 440.1 yards per game.
- Dead last in yards per play, 6.5.
- Dead last in rush yards, 147.6.
- Dead last in yards per carry, 5.2.
- 31st in pass yards, 292.6.
- Dead last in yards per pass attempt, 8.1.
The consensus among draftniks is that the Saints will be drafting a pass rusher or a defensive lineman with the 15th overall pick, and with good reason. There are holes all over the defense, and the front seven is no exception. However, the Saints’ safeties had a horrendous season in 2012 as well, and are in just as much of a need for an upgrade.
The Saints’ safeties, Michael Jenkins and Roman Harper, finished second only to the Titans’ safeties in missed tackles, according to ProFootballFocus:
20 of those missed tackles were by Jenkins, but he’s too young (25) and talented to give up on after one bad season. Harper, on the other hand, is an interesting player. If he’s lingering near the line of scrimmage, you must account for him in pass protection because he’s a weapon as a blitzer. Unfortunately, he can’t cover to save his life, and his ability in the run game is in decline. At this point in his career, Harper would most ideally be used as a role player only, not a guy who was 2nd on the Saints defense last year with 1117 snaps.
Additionally, Harper is making far too much money:
It was expected that the Saints might ask Harper to take a pay cut or be released, but that has not yet happened. The Saints currently have an estimated $139 million on their 2014 salary cap. There’s almost a 0% chance Harper will see his 2014 salary, and if the Saints were to draft this year’s best safety prospect, they could cut Harper and save $3.6 million against their cap in 2013. It is also noteworthy that Jenkins will be a free agent in 2014.
Vaccaro does everything well. He’s good against the run, he can cover receivers in the slot, and he displays a willingness to do a lot of the little things, like blowing up lead blockers so his teammates can make a play on the ball carrier. Perhaps the most relevant tape on Vaccaro was when Texas played West Virginia, and Vaccaro was asked to match up man-to-man against Tavon Austin, the most explosive WR in the country. That should be an enormous mismatch for a safety, but Vaccaro more than held his own. Note that the big plays Austin makes are when he is not being covered by Vaccaro (Texas-WVU game begins at around the 3:30 mark):
Safeties who can cover in the slot like that who can also tackle and be physical are rare.