Over the weekend, it was reported that the New Orleans Saints do not intend on re-signing starting strong safety and 2013 top draft pick Kenny Vaccaro to a new deal, which in turn will allow him to negotiate with any of the other 31 NFL teams seeking his services in 2018 NFL Free Agency that begins in 2 more weeks from now.
If Vaccaro isn't re-signed, then the Saints would likely need to find a player capable of filling multiple roles in their defense; as Vaccaro has done previously as a safety, slot cornerback, and even at strongside and weakside linebacker when other players were hurt.
One player who might be a capable (and definitely underrated) replacement for Vaccaro if he isn't brought back: versatile Jacksonville State safety / CB Siran Neal — the next player to be profiled here at Saints News Network's continuing series on potential Saints 2018 NFL Draft prospects.
Neal just had a "break out" performance at the Senior Bowl recently a few weeks ago, that has put him on the minds of many NFL personnel men during this current 2018 Draft process who are looking for a bonafide mid-round "steal".
FourthandNine.com NFL Draft analyst Eric Crocker says that at 6-foot, 205 pounds, Neal has the ideal size that a majority of NFL teams are coveting, and the position versatility to go with it — as JSU used Neal all over the field. On film he can be seen making plays at safety, slot and outside boundary cornerback.
In both the box and back deep at free safety, Crocker notes that Neal can fill in gaps and (figuratively) run through running backs while simultaneously dismantling offensive players with big hits.
He seemingly is always "flying around" and batting balls, and has developed a knack for creating turnovers particularly with making interceptions.
Crocker adds that cornerbacks who get "too handsy" at the line often stop their feet causing them to get beat right off the line of scrimmage.
Neal shows the ability to be patient at times, but at the Senior Bowl showed that he can also "stonewall" receivers. Going up against Oklahoma State's top-rated WR James Washington in that game, he flashed patience and strength; two things a cornerback will need to play in the NFL.
But he can also line up essentially anywhere you put him, and he'll continue to make plays and have a direct impact upon a team's defensive success, as he proved at FCS "small school" Jacksonville State (located in Jacksonville, Alabama, about 75 miles west of Birmingham).
Assuming that the report is accurate and that the Saints DON'T re-sign Vaccaro, then Saints fans will probably want to keep Neal's name in mind at the upcoming 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, that gets under way beginning tomorrow — and most definitely at this particular portion (the middle rounds where the Saints have most of their picks) of the Draft on Day 3.
Clearly the Saints appear at the moment to have more pressing needs at linebacker and tight end, but the expected loss of Vaccaro will take away a player with the skill-set to play multiple positions within their scheme.
By taking a player who can essentially do the same things that Vaccaro did, it would allow the Saints defense to continue its upward trend that began in earnest last year; and hopefully will allow them to go even deeper into the Playoffs in 2018.
In 2 more months from now, we'll know exactly how Saints brass plans on "replacing" the key role that Vaccaro held down for the past several seasons.