Best in class
Kenny Vaccaro Texas (6-0, 214): Early entrant who started 32 games, including 26 in a row. He was a first-team All-American by Pro Football Weekly. He led the team with 107 tackles and added two interceptions and two forced fumbles. He tallied five interceptions for his career. Why is Vaccaro almost universally considered the No. 1 safety? "Because of his whole body of work," Thomas said. "He played weakside cornerback as a freshman, played strong safety as a sophomore, moved over to free safety as a junior. Not only does he have experience, but if you look at how he sets everybody up on the field, he's a coach. One thing I need from at least one of my safeties, I need that guy to be a player-coach on the field. Very smart. Everything stays in front of him." Added another scout whose team will be looking into drafting a top safety: "In my opinion, the best safety is Kenny Vaccaro. The closer you put him to the ball, the better he gets. It's very close, however, because maybe the most dynamic safety is Matt Elam from Florida. He's a hell of a player but you don't like his size. At 5-10, you question his ability to affect deep throws off the hash."
Phillip Thomas, Fresno State (6-1, 208): Fresno State's first unanimous All-American and was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award. He led the nation and set a Mountain West record with eight interceptions. His interception total was more than 29 FBS teams, including four conference rivals. He took back three of his interceptions for touchdowns. More than just a ballhawk, he added four sacks, 12 tackles for losses and forced four fumbles. He missed 2011 with a broken leg and dislocated ankle sustained just before the opener. So, what's the problem? "His whole thing is stay back and cover in the deep area of the zone," Thomas said. "He likes going for the INTs, and that's one thing I don't like on my freaking safeties. There's no problem that you're getting the INTs but show me something up against the run. When you make 15 percent of your plays against the run, I'm a little concerned. My safety has to come up and support on the run. It's not like years ago." Added another scout: "He's a reliable tackler — he'll get them down but he's not a physical presence or anything like that. The thing you like about him is his ball skills but you don't like the 40 time that he ran (4.65 at the Combine), which brings into question his ability to cover the field. I'm not sure he's that tough. He's in third or fourth round and maybe even the fifth."
J.J. Wilcox, Georgia Southern (6-0, 213): After being a standout playmaker as a running back and slot receiver as a sophomore and junior, the coaching staff moved him to safety before the start of fall camp. He was first-team all-Southern Conference after piling up 88 tackles and two interceptions (he also averaged 25.2 yards per kickoff return) and then showed he could play with the big boys at the Senior Bowl. "In my opinion, J.J. Wilcox, he's a hell of a player, especially after just moving from running back," said a scout who had Wilcox ranked second. "He has the versatility to play both (free and strong). A guy like Wilcox, you'd get him at the end of the second or top of the third." Added Thomas: "He kicked ass at the Senior Bowl. I don't care about what people say. ‘Oh, he looked lost on some plays.' (Baloney) he was lost. If he was lost, man … You go back and look at the film and the kid's got good stick-to-itiveness to him. You put him in a system with a quality coach and you're probably going to have the best safety in this draft. I'd take him over any safety in this draft."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.