Top-tier safeties in today's NFL must possess the cover skills of a cornerback along with the instincts and explosiveness of a linebacker.
Kenny Vaccaro is the consensus top-ranked safety prospect in the 2013 NFL Draft. The former Texas Longhorn is an explosive open-field tackler with the ability to stick with speedy slot receivers when pressed into man coverage.
Nobody is confusing Vaccaro with the next Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu, the two future Hall-of-Fame safeties who set the benchmark for playing the position over the last 10 years. At least not yet.
Then again, the safety's role on the field has drastically changed with the advent of the pass-heavy, multiple wide receiver packages that make up the majority of NFL offenses. Not to mention the emergence of super-athletic tight ends in recent years.
And that's good news for Vaccaro, a dynamic defender who by his own admission "brings a lot to the table in terms of versatility and leadership on and off the field."
Watching Vaccaro's pre-draft training, it's clear that he's ready to step into numerous roles on defense.
The morning movement sessions at Velocity Sports Performance in Irvine, Calif., helped Vaccaro enhance his top-end speed. His 4.63-second 40-Yard Dash time at the NFL Combine didn't blow scouts away, but he proved his capability to keep up with downfield speed receivers as a safety at the next level.
On the field during position-specific drilling, Vaccaro displayed exceptional change of direction skills and an explosive step that was reminiscent of a former Velocity pre-draft trainee, Von Miller, who became the second overall pick of the 2011 Draft.
Most impressive was the showing of upper-body power during the afternoon strength session, in which the 6'0", 216-pound Vaccaro completed a 375-pound Bench Press for three sets of three reps. All of this after he completed 16 reps on his practice run for the 225-Bench Test.
There is a certain poise required to play safety in the NFL, somewhere between the swagger of the game's top cornerbacks and the intensity of the leading linebackers.
That poise is something that's already ingrained in Vaccaro.
"My goal is to go first round," Vaccaro says. "Coming out of Texas, that's the standard for DBs. We call it 'DBU'—Defensive Back University—because we've had so many great DBs come out of that university and excel in the NFL. And that's my goal, to join a long line of legends."
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