METAIRIE, La. (AP) — The New Orleans Saints selected Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro with their first-round pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night.
The selection of the 6-foot, 214-pound Vaccaro on Thursday night, at 15th overall, gives the Saints greater depth in the backfield of a defense that ranked last in the NFL last season, giving up a single-season record 7,042 yards.
He will compete for playing time behind starting safeties Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins.
Vaccaro made 92 tackles and two interceptions last season, when he was credited with seven passes defended. In 2011, he was widely believed to be a candidate to leave Texas early after being named first-team All-Big 12. That season, he had 67 tackles, including 6 1/2 for losses, two interceptions, and was credited with seven pass breakups.
When coach Sean Payton, who was suspended all of last season in connection with the NFL's bounty investigation, was re-instated in January, he wasted little time making moves to overhaul the club's defense, firing coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and replacing him with Rob Ryan. The change also meant the Saints were scrapping the 4-3 defensive formation they'd used since Payton's arrival in 2006, and were switching to a 3-4.
Many of the Saints' moves in free agency — such as the acquisitions of cornerback Keenan Lewis and outside linebacker Victor Butler, also were aimed at shoring up the defense.
On offense, the Saints' needs were not as immediate. With offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. calling the plays and Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees executing them, that unit ranked second in the NFL last season even in Payton's absence.
The only significant hole on the offense was created by the departure of starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod for Chicago in free agency, but the club hopes Charles Brown, who has served as a reserve tackle since being taken in the second-round of the 2010 draft out of Southern California, will be ready to step in.
In Vaccaro, the Saints gain a player who demonstrated he could be an effective blitzer and who has had a hand in 11 turnovers in his college career. He also played some at outside linebacker and middle linebacker at Texas, demonstrating the versatility that Ryan will welcome on his defense.
He also blocked two kicks on special teams.
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