Kenny Vaccaro at the combine back in March. Photo Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Vaccaro not a good pick for Steelers in first round

The books on the 2013 NFL draft opened seconds after the ink dried on the 2012 edition. As early as September pro football sites were alive with mock draft after mock draft. And as we sit in eager anticipation only eleven days until a new crop of stars enter into the league, the mock drafts have reached fever pitch. I believe Don Banks has just completed his mock draft 11,000.0, Mike Mayock is prepping his vocal chords and Mel Kiper Jr. is carefully crafting his hair into place. Heck, even my local butcher has his mock draft taped to the inside of his store window (for the record he has the Jets trading up to #1 and grabbing Geno Smith). I’ll wait a week to post my own mock draft, but I will offer this piece of advice: the Steelers cannot draft Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro with their first pick. Cannot, should not, better not.

To anyone who follows the Steelers it goes without saying that this is by far the most important draft of the Tomlin/Colbert era. While Steeler fans have grown accustomed to the annual parade of star players leave via the greener pastures of free agency, this year seems especially painful. True, Mike Wallace was gone the minute the regular season ended and there was no way a player in a need position like Keenan Lewis was going to hang around Steel town for his payday. However, what is most alarming is the lack of playmakers on both sides of the ball. While Wallace may have been a one trick pony, that trick could be pretty explosive and  that threat will be hard to replace. Nobody will miss RB Rashard Mendenhall but his release leaves a group of young, unproven backs vying for the starting role. And reliable TE Heath Miller more than likely will miss the start of the regular season after injuring his knee. Even with the team retaining WR Emmanuel Sanders for this season (and surely watch him depart after it ends), there is a sudden and scary dearth of playmakers on offense.

While defense has been and will be what the Steelers hang their hats on, that unit too is lacking in the typical pass rushing threat from its outside linebacker spot. From Mike Merriweather to Greg Lloyd and Kevin Green to Jason Gildon and Joey Porter on to James Harrison and Lamar Woodley, the Steelers have always been able to field bookend linebackers who can strike fear into opposing quaterbacks. Woodley was a huge disappointment in 2012 and fans can only hope that his lack of performance an anomaly. However, number 56 will not have Harrison on the other side to occupy blockers to allow him to do his thing. I’m not convinced Jason Worilds can be that guy on the other side yet, although the Steelers brass seems to think he can be.  It’s an area for serious concern.

Having poured over mock draft after mock draft (including SI’s Don Banks), the one name I’ve seen attached to the Steelers a great deal has been Vaccaro. Now I don’t dislike Vaccaro as a player, but if the team wants to address its safety needs, I say wait a round or two and grab DB DJ Swearinger of South Carolina, who plays with similar equal ferocity as Vaccaro. Safety is  just not a position the team needs to address in the first round.Sorry Don and all you other mockers, Vaccaro is just not a smart choice.

With no real running back worthy of the eighteenth pick (and with the Mendenhall misfire still fresh), that’s a position the Steelers can wait to address later (hello Stepfan Taylor). While an OLB stud like BYU’s Ziggy Ansah or Georgia’s Jarvis Jones would be nice, I say the Steelers should be looking towards ole’ rocky top and grab Tennessee WR Cordalle Patterson. Yes, he’s a one year wonder and was shut down by Alabama, but wasn’t everyone? There are concerns about Patterson’s understanding of route running and offense but the big play ability is there. And other than some fears regarding football IQ there are no character red flags to warrant serious hesitation.  While there are no safe picks or sure-fire bets, sometimes a player and a need line up nicely which is the case with Patterson and the Steelers.

For Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin, the 2013 draft has to be about not only talent, but character. They cannot afford risks nor watch as past 1st rounders like Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward have virtually zero impact. For the GM and coach their seats should be warm  and rightly so. Wasting a pick on Vaccaro would make those seats a little hotter.


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  • Nine

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Do NOT write off Cam Heyward yet.

  • Dom DiTolla

    On one hand I definitely agree with you that there will be large amounts of talent left at safety (P. Thomas, Swearinger, S. Thomas, Wilcox, etc.) and running back (J. Franklin, A. Ellington, J. Randle, M. Gillislee, K. Barner, J. Jamison, etc.) on Days 2 and 3 of “Draft Weekend.” But your idea that “Cordarrelle” Patterson would be able to contribute faster and be more productive than Vaccaro in their Rookie campaigns with the team might be a bit off.

    The reason guys like Hood an Heyward didn’t play early in their careers’ was because there were established and healthy veterans in front of them on the depth-chart in LeBeau’s veteran-loving and complex defensive scheme.

    While there are other safeties I like more than Vaccaro, he played both the free and strong safety positions at Texas, and can chip in with coverage in the slot as well. Pittsburgh might not have a choice to throw a player like Vaccaro into the fire early, especially if rapidly calcifying Polamalu and/or Clark get hurt. Plus, with the increased use of “12″ personnel, Vaccaro could be called upon to help in “Big Nickel” packages.

    As far as Patterson is concerned, I will admit that he is an explosive receiver, but he wasn’t even the most productive receiver on his own team last season. In fact, Justin Hunter and the guy Patterson replaced at Tennessee, Da’Rick Rogers, are not only better route-runners than him, but have better hands and are more N.F.L. ready than Cordarrelle is at this juncture of their careers.

    Heck, DeAndre Hopkins and Keenan Allen are better suited to contribute earlier than Patterson because they know what the heck they are doing on the field and have far superior hands, run better routes, and are far better blockers than the former Volunteer is.

    Plus, I’m sure that “Boss Todd” would not give any playing time to someone who has a low football I.Q. and suspect hands. In my opinion, if the Steelers want a guy who can stretch the field vertically, but can run routes well in different areas of the field, they’d be better off taking Markus Wheaton as opposed to Patterson.

    I’m not saying that the former Longhorn should be the team’s 1st round pick, but he is a far better fit than Patterson would be.

    • Craig

      Dom, your comments are like Guinness – practically a meal on it’s own. :)

    • scott sinclair


      Hunter was hurt and is thin framed for his size so the potential is there for
      more injury, and Rogers was kicked off the team. Patterson has less baggage and
      more upside. If the team wants to address DB in the first, then go corner. As
      you said, young guys don’t get a chance on defense if there are quality vets
      ahead. While Polamalu may not be the player he was, Clark is still solid and if
      Troy can stay healthy, Vaccaro or any safety for that matter may not make much
      of an impact. Swearinger is a former LB so he has athleticism and is good on
      run support and faced better college competition which is why I favor him. I
      think he’d be better in the “Big Nickel” package than would Vaccaro.

      As far as ‘Boss Todd’, the one knock on Wallace was that he was not a solid
      route runner either. I think Haley could teach Patterson up,let him work with
      Ben and he’d give them the big wideout they’ve been lacking since Burress was
      in his younger years. I think Haley’s offense makes it easier for a rookie to
      contribute than LeBeau’s defense does. Allen is not a blazer, Hopkins does not
      have great separation and is not a go-up and get it WR. I still believe a WR
      who could make plays, create separation and go up and get it is a better pick
      than a number three safety.

      • Dom DiTolla

        A lot of talented wide receivers have “more upside,” but don’t pan out at the next level because they can’t run proper routes or catch the ball well. Patterson racked up big stats against the likes of Troy and Georgia State. In fact 219 of his 778 receiving yards in 2012 came in the Troy game, and he disappeared against the likes of South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama when it came to him catching the football and making plays as a receiver!

        Furthermore, I also want to know how Patterson is supposed to fight off press-man coverage against some of the league’s most physical cornerbacks, especially if his technique is lacking and he disappears for plays at a time in games.

        Heck, his blocking is suspect at best, and his hands are far worse than both Hunter and Rogers. Plus, I would consider a low “football I.Q.” to be “baggage” for any prospect coming out for a draft.

        Sure Da’Rick might have to off-field issues, and that is always a risk. But he is a terrific route runner in the intermediate part of the field, and has great body control for a player with his 6’3″ frame. Granted, Hunter is a bit skinny, but that’s what an offseason workout program is for, right? Hunter can add another 10-15 lbs. to his 6’4″ frame.

        As far as Hopkins is concerned, he was money for Clemson during his career (18 touchdowns), and could help a red zone-needy team like the Steelers out in the red zone. I for one would say that DeAndre knows how to “go-up and get it” when it matters.

        Let me also say that there have been some pretty successful pass-catchers who weren’t “blazers” with their 40 times coming out of college: Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Hakeem Nicks, Reggie Wayne, Stevie Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, oh yeah, and some guy named Jerry Rice.

        Raw speed is only useful when the pass-catcher knows what the hell he is doing with it. If a receiver can’t run routes, understand the offense, block in the run game, and beat bump & run-coverage courtesy of pro cornerbacks on a consistent basis, then what good is their supposedly “blazing” speed?

        Plus, how long the Steelers truly afford to wait for Patterson to develop? One year, two years, three years? By the time he eventually comes around, if he even does, Colbert & Co. might have to let him walk as a FA.

        Also, was Swearinger a linebacker at South Carolina? I know he played both free and strong safety, but I thought Holloman and Shaq Wilson were the ones who played both positions.

        Moreover, don’t bank on Pittsburgh choosing a cornerback in Round 1 unless Dee Milliner falls to them. They haven’t selected a cornerback with a 1st Round pick in 15 years, and all the guys on their roster now (acquired by the team via the draft) were selected in Rounds 3-5.

        I didn’t say that wide receiver was not an immediate need. I just simply stated that I hope that they aren’t betting the farm on a prospect like Patterson when so many other talented players could be acquired later on in the draft process, and talented players at other positions can be found in Round 1.

        But hey, if Colbert & Co. want to hedge their bets on Darrius Heyward-Bey II, then they can do whatever they want.

        • scott sinclair

          I don’t bank on them choosing a CB in the 1st either. They haven’t done well in the past with CB in the 1st (Chad Scott, Deon Figures) nor have they always hit on 1st round WRs (Troy Edwards). My last point in the case for Patterson is he can be a factor in the return game which Hunter and Hopkins are not. Patterson has great vision in the return game and can be a home run hitter in that department (he had return TDs against Miss. St, Missouri and Vandy and a big game against Georgia) plus he led the SEC in all purpose yards, so he’s proven he can put up numbers more than just against Troy and Georgia State. Yes, we can list dozens on guys who had great hands and no speed, but for Brown and Sanders (and eventually Miller when he returns) to excel they need someone who can stretch the field. Patterson does not have elite speed but he has explosive speed and makes great cuts. Yes, he is raw but his hands are not nearly made of the concrete you say they are and the point that he is a serious factor in the return game to me makes him a better pick than Hunter, Hopkins or Allen. And I think the Heyward Bey reference doesn’t apply.

          Although Hollomon was a converted LB, Swearinger played some LB in certain packages at South Carolina due to his aggressive play and athleticism. He can cover the TE or stick his face in the run game. He can be wild and undisciplined at times but he has a passion for the game. Vaccaro has had some off the field issues (a few arrests) and came to the combine out of shape. With the ream being burned last year by the arrests of Rainey and Ta’amu (who I thought at the time was a steal), they can’t take a chance on Vaccaro.
          While I am not betting the farm on Patterson either, I just think of all the prospects at WR for them that may be there, he makes the most sense from what he can do for the team both on offense and special teams.
          I don’t know what Colbert & Co are thinking(which applies to the entire offseason), but other than a pass rush OLB demon, they need to be thinking WR.

          • Dom DiTolla

            If the Steelers need so much help at wide receiver, why should it matter that Patterson can return kicks? Granted, it’s an added bonus, but I would figure that the team would want to protect him from injury, especially such an important 1st round pick like him.

            Plus, once Cordarrelle gets to the N.F.L., how many kickoffs will he be able to return with the current kickoff rules in place? Then when you factor in the “low football I.Q.” and the overall inexperience at the wide receiver position, Patterson would be too much of a risk for me. And when I questioned his productivity against better competition, I meant as a receiver in the passing-game and not a kick/punt returner.

            Give me a more “complete” receiver any day of the week, and I would take Markus Wheaton or even Terrance Williams over Patterson if I wanted to stretch the field in a vertical sense. More value down the draft board anyway, and bigger needs can be addressed beforehand.

            I guess we will find out on Draft Weekend who the team really likes, but consider me “not sold” on Patterson.

  • Jon Worth

    I’m not totally convinced by the argument, although I don’t know much about Vaccaro other than he is supposedly the highest rated S in the draft. Bottom line, depth at S is the biggest concern, IMO, followed closely by both ILB and OLB. Now that Sanders is coming back, I am less concerned about WR.

    Having said that, our offense underwhelmed last year and we just lost two key pieces in Wallace and Mendenhall. The main thing to remember is that last year Mendenhall hardly played and Wallace was self-admittedly not mentally focused, so hopefully the hit on O this year will not be as bad as thought.

    Getting someone who can contribute right away in a couple of areas would be great, but we are thin all over and given the injury tendencies our backups will need backups.

  • Grady Parr

    Not only is Vaccaro the best safety (free or strong) in this draft, he’s probably the best nickel corner. He spent a lot of time the last two years playing nickel and shut his guy down for the most part. Where he kills the rest of this safety class is quickness (not straight-line speed, where he’s about average) and wrapping up when he tackles. Vaccaro is incredibly quick out of his breaks and knows how to use his hands and arms when he makes contact. All that being said, I think he’s a great pick, due to the fact that the Steelers really need a third starting safety. We all know Troy isn’t going to play a full season (no matter how bad we want/need him to) and Ryan is always a concussion risk, who can’t play in Denver (where you probably don’t want to be missing starters). Who would you want manning the nickel, Willie “oh my god I never want to see Adrian Peterson again” Gay or a guy that shut down Tavon Austin (relatively speaking) in single coverage, was responsible for knocking several guys out of games (legally), and led his team in tackles (while mostly playing nickel). I just hope Vaccaro’s on the board when the Steelers make their pick…