Kenny Vaccaro

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Quandre Diggs paused for a moment after being asked if he was surprised Texas enters Saturday’s road affair against BYU as a seven-point favorite.

“What would I be surprised about?” he finally answered. “My deal is for us to win 
every game.”

Diggs has become an anchor of the Texas defense, someone who finds losing unfathomable. He is so supremely confident in his ability that it is hard for him to imagine being the underdog.

The junior defensive back emerged as the Longhorns’ most prominent defensive playmaker over the last two seasons, compiling eight interceptions and 30 passes defended in 26 games. This production, coupled with his physical skill set and his punishing 5-foot-11, 200-pound frame, prompted defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to shift Diggs to nickel back to start the season.

“One of the rules is the more instinctive of a player you are, the closer you want to line that guy up to the football,” Diaz said. “Certainly one thing Quandre has shown over the last two years is he has great instincts for playing 
the game.”

Diaz believes Diggs fits naturally at nickel back due to his aptitude for playing in both zone and man coverage. Additionally, the junior boasts the speed to cover receivers in the slot and the physicality to line up in the box and prevent the run.

“[Nickel] plays a lot of different factors in the game,” Diggs said. “You get to blitz, you get to cover and you get to do all different types of stuff and disguises. It puts me closer to the line of scrimmage to go make more plays. That’s something I’m very, very excited about.”

Diggs played well in his debut at nickel back last Saturday, racking up five tackles while breaking up a pass and recovering a fumble against New Mexico State. Senior cornerback Carrington Byndom was impressed by the junior’s performance, saying Diggs possesses the ability to make a major impact in the 
Longhorns’ secondary.

“Him playing nickel is allowing him to be around the ball, and that’s something that he is really good at,” Byndom said. “He’s really instinctive and he’s always around the ball, so putting him even closer is helping him out. We’re looking for big things out of him from the nickel spot.”

Diggs follows in the footsteps of a number of high-profile nickel backs to star in the Texas defense, including current NFL safeties Earl Thomas, Aaron Williams and 2013 first-round draft pick Kenny Vaccaro, who led the Longhorns with 107 tackles last season. Diggs realizes that comparisons to Vaccaro are inevitable, but after just one game his focus remains on improving each week and forming his 
own identity.

“I can’t compare myself to Kenny, but it was fun [playing nickel] and I can tell you that I enjoyed it,” Diggs said. “I look forward to playing it every week. I’m learning so much more about the game just being there, and I want to just continue to take advantage of the opportunity that coach has given me. I’m very thankful for it.”

The emergence of sophomore cornerback Duke Thomas and junior cornerback Sheroid Evans gives the Longhorns the depth to pencil Diggs into the nickel slot. While the junior still lines up at his traditional cornerback position in Texas’ base defense, Diggs’ teammates expect him to make his biggest contributions jetting around the field as the nickel back.

“He’s a playmaker, and at nickel, you’re there to make plays,” senior safety Adrian Phillips said. “Quandre is just a heck of a player. He has a knack for the ball. With him being at nickel, you don’t have to worry about that position. He’s going to find his way to the ball.”

A big season figures to propel Diggs up the 2014 NFL Draft board, especially due to the small sample of defensive backs capable of excelling in the nickel back slot. Despite this, Diggs’ concerns lie with his opponents each week rather than his prospects as a future NFL draft pick.

“I’m not really worried about draft stock,” Diggs said. “That’s something that’s going to come with [playing]. I just want to continue to go out and play.”

This mindset bodes well for the Longhorns, as every acrobatic interception, athletic pass breakup and jaw-dropping hit supplied by their standout nickel back pushes the Longhorns one step closer to becoming a top-flight defense.

Former Longhorn quarterback Vince Young is now the likely backup quar- terback for the Packers after the team released quarterback Gra- ham Harrell on Friday evening. Young has been out of the NFL since 2011. 

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Kenny Vaccaro
New Orleans Saints

After an impressive career in burnt orange, Kenny Vaccaro joined New Orleans in the first of the 2013 NFL Draft — the first time in franchise history the Saints drafted a safety that early. The 15th overall pick will strengthen the Saints’ defensive backfield, which was the second-worst in the league last season. The hard-hitting Vaccaro recorded 92 tackles in his final season at Texas and tallied two interceptions. He’s already created a buzz around the Saints’ organization after starting a few on-field skirmishes, most notably with veteran tight end Jimmy Graham. 


Marquise Goodwin
Buffalo Bills
Wide Receiver

Former Olympian and Longhorn Marquise Goodwin established himself as an impact player early on for the Bills this preseason. Goodwin, a third-round pick in 2013, returned a kickoff 107 yards for a touchdown in his first preseason game. 

Goodwin will add needed speed and quickness to the Bills’ return game. 


Alex Okafor
Arizona Cardinals
Outside Linebacker

The Arizona Cardinals selected Alex Okafor in third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The defensive lineman set a number of records during his senior season, which included a 4.5 sack effort in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Okafor, who played defensive end at Texas, is listed as an outside linebacker on the Cardinals’ roster. Either way, expect Okafor to find a way to the quarterback.


Vince Young
Green Bay Packers

Young is back in the NFL after sitting out the 2012 season, after the Bills released him at the end of the preseason. The Packers released Graham Harrell on Saturday evening, making it likely that Young will be the backup to Aaron Rodgers to start the season. Although he is firmly entrenched behind Rodgers on the depth chart, Young impressed in his preseason debut, throwing for 41 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 39 yards on three carries in Friday’s 17-10 loss to Seattle. 


Brian Orakpo
Outside Linebacker

Orakpo returns to the Redskins’ starting lineup in Week 1 after a torn pectoral muscle forced him out of the final 14 games of 2012. The Redskins hope that Orakpo, who has recorded 29.5 sacks in 49 career games, can return to form as a pass-rusher. If he can, it would be a huge aid to the 30th-ranked pass defense in the NFL. Now in a contract season, the 27-year-old outside linebacker is healthy and primed for a productive year in Washington.


Aaron Ross

Ross will play a significant role in the Giants secondary, especially after cornerback Jayron Hosley left Saturday’s preseason game with an ankle injury. If Hosley is unable to return for the season opener, Ross could slot as the Giants’ third cornerback behind Prince Amukamara and Corey Webster. In the pass-happy NFC East, look for Ross to see plenty of time in New York’s secondary.

Senior cornerback Carrington Byndom (23) is one returning starting defender that should help Texas back to dominance in a different looking Big 12 conference.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

With the NFL Draft in the rearview mirror, the Texas football program can now set its sights on a promising 2013 season. Despite the departure of team captains Kenny Vaccaro and Alex Okafor, the Longhorns will be looking to reach double-digit wins for the first time since 2009. The question is: will they?

Looking ahead to their schedule this fall, things appear to be falling into place for the Longhorns. The top five quarterbacks in the Big 12 last year — Geno Smith, Landry Jones, Collin Klein, Nick Florence and Seth Doege —  all graduated and left gaping holes in their teams’ backfields. Considering three of the Longhorns’ four losses in 2012 came to those quarterbacks, that should bode very well for Texas.

And it doesn’t stop there. The Longhorns’ upcoming opponents had a combined .530 win percentage last year, including two teams that won only one game apiece. In fact, only two teams that Texas will play in 2013 won more than eight games last season: the Kansas State Wildcats and the Oklahoma Sooners. Though the Red River Rivalry is another story, the Wildcats shouldn’t scare Texas without Klein, who was the Heisman front-runner for most of 2012.

The next question then is whether the Longhorns will bring enough to the table to take advantage of what appears to be a golden opportunity to reclaim the Big 12 throne? When looking at the Texas’ roster, there’s no doubt that Vaccaro and Okafor will be missed. Both were a presence in the locker room, providing leadership to a Longhorns team that featured underclassmen at almost every starting position. Even more so, the duo usually provided the lone bright spots for a defense that was statistically the worst in Texas history. Vaccaro was the only semi-reliable tackler on the team, recording a team-high 96 tackles. 

Okafor did his part, too, leading the team with 18 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks, 4.5 of which came in the Longhorns’ 31-27 Alamo Bowl victory over Oregon State. 

That being said, the Longhorns still have plenty of talent remaining on defense, especially in the areas that their seniors vacated. With Okafor and Vaccaro gone, the torch is now passed to Quandre Diggs, Carrington Byndom and Jackson Jeffcoat, all of whom are expected to make big moves in 2013. Diggs and Byndom combined for seven interceptions last year and should form one of the nation’s top defensive back duos.  Along the line of scrimmage, Jeffcoat should dominate in a way that will remind Texas fans of Sergio Kindle. Despite playing in only six games last year, he finished second to Okafor with 11 tackles for loss and four sacks. The Longhorns look good on the offensive end, too. They have a stable of running backs, including Johnathan Gray and the lightning-quick Daje Johnson, as well as a seasoned receiving corps that shouldn’t miss Marquise Goodwin too much. Texas has tons of big-play ability to boast. There are still questions that need to be answered, though. Will David Ash, in his third year starting, make the necessary strides to guide Texas to a Big 12 title? With most of the conference’s premier quarterbacks gone, he stands alone as the only signal-caller who has won two bowl games. No doubt, big things will be expected of him. Additionally, Major Applewhite’s ability to call plays will have a huge impact on this offense. If he struggles like Bryan Harsin did, expect Texas to have trouble scoring against top defenses.

Senior wide receiver Mike Davis (1) enjoyed a productive junior year, and if he continues to refine his skills in his last season at Texas he could be the next Longhorn to make it to the NFL. Davis is joined by other upperclassmen as well as a few others as potential NFL prospects

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Former Texas players Kenny Vaccaro, Marquise Goodwin, Alex Okafor and Brandon Moore fulfilled their childhood dreams last week, earning spots on four different NFL rosters. As Texas heads into the fall season, the spotlight will shine on seniors eager to prove themselves in the eyes of NFL scouts and coaches.

Wide receiver Mike Davis is among those entering his final year as a Longhorn. After seeing significant playing time in his freshman and sophomore years, Davis started 11 times in 2012, leading the team in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and yards per catch. Davis was a second team All-Big 12 choice by the San Antonio Express-News and the Dallas Morning News.

Entering the draft was a possibility this year for Davis, as he bounced back and forth on whether to remain at Texas or leave for the NFL. After discussing his options with Texas coaches and his family, Davis decided to stay.

“It’s been tough for me,” Davis told ESPN’s Joe Schad. “I did plan on coming out [for the draft], but I need to do this one more time. I want to try to win the Biletnikoff award. Those guys at Texas deserve another year.”

Returning for his final year means Davis will have a chance to increase his efficiency on the field and boost his tapes with more catches. 

“I took it upon myself to be a senior leader and help the other receivers get better,” Davis said. 

2013 will mark offensive guard Mason Walters’ fifth and final season at Texas. After missing the bulk of his freshman season with a foot injury, Walters returned to start 12 games during his second season and win UT’s Frank Medina Rehabilitation Award. 

Walters has started all 13 games during his past two seasons. He was a 2012 honorable mention All-Big 12 selection and named to the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award watch lists. 

Walters is already 17th on’s list of top offensive guards heading into the 2014 NFL Draft. 

Jackson Jeffcoat earned buzz from sports analysts and columnists heading into the 2012 season as a top draft prospect.  

The heavily recruited Plano West defensive end played in eight games during his first year at Texas and started 12 as a sophomore, missing only one start due to injury.  His promising junior year was cut short by a right pectoral muscle rupture during the Texas-Oklahoma game.  Despite the injury, Jeffcoat still managed to come in second on the team in tackles for loss
and sacks.  

Athleticism is in Jeffcoat’s blood: his father, Jim Jeffcoat, was a well-known NFL lineman who played for both the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills.  

Jackson, lauded for his speed and flexibility on the field, still has analysts abuzz with his potential to land a spot in the early rounds of the 2014 draft. Now, Jeffcoat will have 2013 to prove himself after his recovery. 

Former Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro poses for the ceremonial picture with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Vaccaro appeared in 51 games for Texas in his four year career.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

All Kenny Vaccaro wanted out of the NFL draft was to be the first safety chosen.

In a brightly lit Radio City Music Hall packed full of fans sporting jerseys of their favorite teams, he got his wish.  

Hopefully he’s partial to gumbo. 

The New Orleans Saints chose Vaccaro as the 15th pick during the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday. Vaccaro follows a line of six other Texas players drafted in the first round since 2006. He also makes his place among a group of 12 other Texas defensive backs chosen in the past 12 drafts. 

“I got chills when I looked at my mom after my name was called,” Vaccaro said. “We’ve been through so much, and she’s been there for me all the way. It was special to share the moment with her and my family. Having [defensive backs] coach [Duane] Akina there, also, was extra special. He’s coached so many great DBs.”

Smiling and holding a black and gold jersey and wearing his Saints hat, Vaccaro looked poised to join his new team. LSU’s Eric Reid was the second safety selected at No. 18.

“I think he’s got very good football intelligence,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said. “Part of being a pressure guy from the back end is anticipation, snap count and disguise. I think he’s an instinctive player, and you see that on tape.”

Vaccaro started every game for the Longhorns in 2012 and led the team in tackles, earning lauds for his power, speed and hard hits. He was a first team All-American by Pro Football Weekly and a first-team 2012 All-Big 12 by the conference’s coaches. Vaccaro had 51 games and 32 starts under his belt by the end of his collegiate career and was one of the top safety prospects heading into the draft.

“He is very passionate about football,” head coach Mack Brown said. “He brings leadership and he brings toughness.”

He was also part of a select group of players invited to New York for the event. 

For the Brownwood native, a pick by the Saints means a move outside of the state he’s grown up in, but Vaccaro has said he is open to going to any team he has the chance to play for.
“This was such a great night, and I’m so excited to be a Saint. New Orleans is a great franchise with passionate fans like Texas, and it’s still close to my family,” Vaccaro said. “The Saints were my last visit, and I had a good feeling about it. I am ready to do whatever the Saints want me to do.”

Vaccaro joins Earl Thomas, Michael Griffin and Michael Huff as Longhorns safeties to be selected in the first round since Akina was hired at Texas in 2001.

“I have been grinding my whole life, literally since I was four years old for this opportunity, and it is finally here,” Vaccaro said. “Earl Thomas told me to come in, have a chip on my shoulder and put an impact on this league. [He said], ‘Don’t just sit around and wait for someone else to take your job.’” 

The Kansas City Chiefs chose Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher with the No. 1 pick of the draft, followed by the Jacksonville Jaguars snagging another offensive tackle, Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel with the No. 2 pick. 

2013 marked the first year since 1968 that two offensive linemen were selected as the first and second overall picks.

Texas defensive end Alex Okafor was not selected in the first round but stands a good chance to hear his name called Friday, when the NFL draft will continue with the second and third rounds.

It may have taken a little longer than he would have hoped, but Kenny Vaccaro was drafted by the New Orleans Saints with the No. 15 pick of the 2013 NFL Draft on Thursday night.

Vaccaro shared an embrace with his former defensive backs coach Duane Akina before offering his younger brother Kevin a warm hug. Vaccaro then made the short walk from the draft green room to the podium where NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was there to greet him.

He wasn’t the first defensive back drafted, than honor went to Alabama’s Dee Milliner at No. 9. Vaccaro was the third defensive back selected and he lands in New Orleans, who had the 31st ranked pass defense a year ago. New Orleans needed help defensively, and Vaccaro meets a lot of the Saints’ needs.

Vaccaro is the first Longhorn to be drafted in the first round since Earl Thomas was taken 14th overall by Seattle in 2010. Vaccaro joins an aging Saints secondary and should push for playing time immediately.


Florida’s vaunted defensive tackle Shariff Floyd was still on the board at No. 15, but New Orleans decided to patch up its atrocious secondary first and foremost. Vaccaro will make things easier for the Saints’ secondary as long as he wraps up when tackling. Vacarro brings an intensity to the Saints that has been lacking since the likes of Kyle Turley and Jonathan Vilma were at their best in intimidating opposing offenses.

Vaccaro could very well find himself closer to the line of scrimmage in nickel packages, much like he became accustomed to in his senior year at Texas. The bottom line is Vaccaro brings a heavy-hitting mentality to New Orleans and he is a nice fit for a team looking for a replenished defensive mindset. Expect Vaccaro to make some noise at some point during the upcoming season for the Saints.

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, should he slip, would be an intriguing fit in Minnesota. 

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

My 2013 mock draft, version 1.0. Like I had anything better to do. 

1. Kansas City - Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M - Why bet against group-think?

2. Jacksonville - Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan - The Jags haven't spent a first-round pick on an offensive lineman in five years. If you're going to give Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert continued chances, might as well protect them while giving Maurice Jones-Drew some room to run.

3. Oakland - Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida - An interior building block as a new regime tries to get off the ground in Oakland. 

4. Philadelphia - Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon - Reunite Jordan with college college Chip Kelly. If the Aldon Smith comparisons pan out, then this is a home run, even though the 6-foot-6 underproduced in college. Jordan fits perfectly in the NFC East. He can disrupt the quarterback (Eli Manning, Tony Romo) and he is quick enough to chase them down (Robert Griffin III).

5. Detroit - Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma - Probably a stretch, but with offensive tackles flying off the board, Detroit can't pass up a chance to fortify the line. 

6. Cleveland - Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama - A rush-end like Ziggy Ansah would be nice, but the Browns just spent big bucks on Paul Kruger. Here's Warmack, perhaps the best overall player in the draft — and best guard in quite some time. He should feel right at home opening up running lanes for old college teammate, Trent Richardson. 

7. Arizona - D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama - Same situation as Detroit. Probably a stretch, but the Cardinals have to scoop up the last of the elite offensive tackles. Doesn't matter who's quarterback (and I think Geno Smith would be a reach here), the offensive line has to get incrementally better if Arizona is to compete in the NFC West. 

8. Buffalo - Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU - The offseason signing of Mario Williams did little to help Buffalo get after the quarterback; the Bills finished with a middle-of-the-road 36 sacks. Add the freakish Ansah, who’d play outside lienbacker in the Bills’ 3-4 scheme, and you’ve got the makings of a dynamic front-seven. With two games per year against Tom Brady, Buffalo, which signed OLB Manny Lawson in the offseason, can afford to get greedy with pass-rushers.

9. New York Jets - Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia - How do you satiate an angry fanbase? Draft a slick, explosive receiver — that’s how. With questions at quarterback, taking Austin ensures that whoever lines up under center will have something to work with.

10. Tennessee Titans - Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama - The best defensive back in the draft is slipping because of injury concerns, but Milliner is a nice fit for a team that prides itself in its ability to defend the pass.

11. San Diego Chargers - Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah - The Chargers used a second-round pick on a defensive tackle last season and a first-rounder there in 2011, so this isn't a "need" pick, but rather one based on value. 

12. Miami Dolphins - Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame - Offense is the priority here, and without reaching to take a tackle to replace Jake Long, the Dolphins get Ryan Tannehill the next-best thing: a versatile weapon in the passing game.

13. New York Jets - Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU - Just the guy the Jets wanted to get at No. 9. How Mingo's career pans out will be analyzed for years, as this is the pick New York got from Tamp Bay in the Revis deal. 

14. Carolina - Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri - Richardson is a mountain of a defensive tackle, with potential to get a lot better. 

15. New Orleans - Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas - The second-worst passing defense would benefit from the addition of the draft's best safety. Vaccaro would come in and make an impact right away. His ability to cover outside and slot receivers, as well as step up and make plays in the running game, are highly valued. 

16. St. Louis - Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia - Ogeltree is the opposite of Dion Jordan: poor measurables, but great college results. Also, his character concerns aren't likely to sway Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who has a history of brushing those issues aside. 

17. Pittsburgh - Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington - The once-rugged AFC North is opening up, what with Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton emerging as super-productive quarterbacks. The Steelers' LCB, Keenan Lewis, started 16 games last season but did not record an interception.

18. Dallas - Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina - The Cowboys already locked up their left tackle for the next 10 years with the Tyron Smith selection two years ago. Time to get him a long-term pal on the interior. Don't be surprised if Jerry Jones trades up — even if it's to get Cooper, who some have going in the first 10 selections. 

19. New York Giants - Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State - This has been a cursed position for the Giants in recent years. Aaron Ross is back on the team after failing to meet big expectations in his first go-round. Terrell Thomas can't stay healthy, while results have been mixed for Prince Amukamara in two seasons.

20. Chicago - Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame - The perfect replacement for Brian Urlacher in the middle of the Bears' defense. A slow 40-time isn't a biggie. 

21. Cincinnati - Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama - Somebody's going to take a running back, and why not the Bengals? BenJarvus Green-Ellis finished with over 1,000 yards last year in his Bengals debut, but he only picked up around 68 per game. Lacy provides an upgrade. It's a two-back league, anyway. 

22. St. Louis - Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee - Again, Fisher isn't afraid to pull the trigger on a player with character red-flags. Patterson isn't Tavon Austin, who's likely the No. 1 option in St. Louis, but he's still very dynamic (16.9 yards per reception, 12.3 yards per carry in one year at Tennessee).  

23. Minnesota - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia - Yes, the Vikings spent a first-rounder two years ago on Christian Ponder, but Smith here is too good to pass up. Why waste the prime of Adrian Peterson’s and Greg Jennings’s careers with Ponder, who has completed only 59 percent of his passes last season in his career? 

24. Indianapolis - Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia - An edge-rusher to replace Dwight Freeney, and a major steal at No. 24. Jones drops because of chronic spinal stenosis, which didn't seem to bother him too much at Georgia (12.5 sacks last season).

25. Minnesota - Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina - Minnesota took a luxury pick at No. 23, but now it's time to upgrade at a position of immediate need. 

26. Green Bay - Margus Hunt, DE, SMU - A physical specimen at 6-foot-8, Hunt could be the second coming of Jason Taylor. With his size and speed (4.6 40-yard dash), Hunt can fill a variety of holes for Green Bay — a five-technique in the 3-4 defense, or a stand-up pass-rusher opposite Clay Matthews. 

27. Houston - Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee - Like everybody else, I think the Texans have to take a wideout with the No. 27 pick. With Austin and Patterson off the board, the 6-foot-4 Hunter is the next-best candidate. He's got a 39-inch vertical and ran a 4.4 40-yard dash at the combine. He's not just some workout wonder, though. Hunter had 1,083 yards receiving and nine touchdowns last season.

28. Denver - D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston - The Broncos badly need a cornerback to pair with Champ Bailey. You saw the AFC Championship game, right? 

29. New England - Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State - Werner had an ACC-best 13 sacks last season, while New England was 15th in the NFL with 37. An outside receiver could work here, but this fits a need for the Patriots. 

30. Atlanta - Kyle Long, OL, Oregon - Quickly-rising up the draft boards, Long would be a nice right tackle for the Falcons, who signed left tackle Sam Baker to a six-year deal this offseason. Atlanta really doesn't have many weaknesses. 

31. San Francisco - Jonathan Cyprien, S, FIU - The 49ers need to replace departed safety Dashon Goldson. Cyprien or Florida's Matt Elam are the likely candidates for the job. 

32. Baltimore - Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU - Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe have both moved on. It's time for the Ravens to find a new heart of the defense. Minter was an All-SEC player in 2012. 

See Daily Texan Sports Editor Christian Corona's mock draft here.

Former Longhorns defensive end Alex Okafor tries to make a tackle against the TCU Horned Frogs on Thanksgiving Day last season. Okafor, who is expected to be drafted in the early rounds of the NFL draft, had eight tackles and 4.5 sacks in the 2012 Valero Alamo Bowl last December. 

Photo Credit: Andrew Torrey | Daily Texan Staff

At the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia in 1936, professional football teams selected their chosen players for the first-ever NFL draft.

Seventy-seven years later, teams are still doing it, with a few more rounds and slightly more advanced technology. The 2013 NFL draft will commence Thursday evening at New York City’s Radio Music Hall, bringing with it a cluster of Longhorns ready to sport the caps of their new teams.

Former Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro has earned buzz from scouts and coaches for his speed, strength and hard-hitting abilities. Vaccaro is considered by analysts to be one of the top safety prospects in the draft and will most likely go in the first round. Vaccaro was included in a small group of players invited to New York City for the draft.

“It is an experience he should enjoy,” head coach Mack Brown said of Vaccaro’s invitation. “It is a great compliment to not only Kenny and not only [assistant head coach/defensive backs coach] Duane Akina, but to our entire program.”

Rumors of teams thinking about drafting Vaccaro have included the Rams, Saints, Cowboys and Titans after had private workouts with the latter two. But Vaccaro is keeping an open mind in terms of rosters.

“I’m fired up to go anywhere,” Vaccaro said. “This has been a dream my whole life. Wherever I go, I’ll excel at that team.”

Defensive end Alex Okafor is also projected to be drafted in the early rounds, thanks to his power, fundamentally-sound hand usage and production as a pass rusher. Sporting his Texas jersey for the final time against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl, Okafor tallied eight tackles and an Alamo Bowl record of 4.5 sacks. 

“Alex Okafor is a guy I like,” NFL analyst Mike Mayock said. “I love the way he sacked Geno Smith in the end zone [during the West Virginia game.] He has some burst off the edge. He does everything really well. He’s got good hustle.”   

Speedy wide receiver Marquise Goodwin wowed scouts and fans alike with a 4.27 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, the fastest in history by a wide receiver. Goodwin, who is an Olympic long jumper, is projected by some to go sometime during the fourth round. Despite the praise he’s earned for his quickness on the field, Goodwin said his speed often overshadows the other abilities he has to offer an NFL team.

“I definitely have a lot more to me than just my speed,” he said. “I’m physical, I block and I can catch, I can run routes, I can get open.”

Goodwin’s impressive performance at the senior bowl also grabbed the attention of scouts and analysts.

“I came out of the Senior Bowl going, ‘This kid’s a legitimate football player,’” Mayock said. “[He has] potential return skills [and] runs as fast as anybody in the NFL runs.”

Defensive tackle Brandon Moore surprised some with his announcement to enter the draft after just one season at Texas. Moore contributed including 18 tackles and two sacks this past season, alternating between inside and outside.

Moore’s size makes him a notable candidate, but lack of tapes could mean Moore will go in the mid-to-later rounds of the draft, analyst Rob Rang noted. 

Wide receiver D.J. Monroe could earn a spot on a team as a late draft pick. Monroe spent five years with the Longhorns but only started twice last season.

“I’m just ready to see who is interested and who is not,” Monroe said. “I’m ready for another step, another chapter to open. This is my last goal in life. I feel like I accomplished the rest, and now I’m about to show them I can play in the NFL.”


Christian Corona and Trey Scott muse their mock drafts. Corona has Vaccaro to the Rams at No. 16, while Scott has him going a pick earlier, to the Saints at No. 15.

Former Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro is a highly ranked prospect in this week’s NFL draft.  Vaccaro was one of only 23 players invited to New York City to attend the draft.  

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

Ask Kenny Vaccaro what he hopes the outcome of this week’s NFL draft will be, and the answer is quick, confident and smoothly spoken.

“I want to be the first safety taken,” Vaccaro said. “I don’t care if it’s the first or second round, I just want to be the first safety off the board.”

The draft prospects are looking bright for the Brownwood native, who played for four years and started at safety in every game during his junior and senior years. In his four-year career, Kenny Vaccaro managed 264 tackles, five interceptions and four forced fumbles. Many analysts have listed Vaccaro as a first-round pick, citing his size, speed, hard-hitting grit, flexibility and instincts on the field. 

“I think I was explosive on my breaks,” Vaccaro said at Texas Pro Day, where he went through drills but skipped the 40-yard dash due to a hip flexor injury. “I was really happy with how my hip held up. I thought I did a good job today.”

Vaccaro ran through private workouts for the Dallas Cowboys and the Tennessee Titans, though a bevy of other coaches seem to have their eyes on him too.  

“I’m fired up to go anywhere,” Vaccaro said at Pro Day. “This has been a dream my whole life. Wherever I go, I’ll excel at that team.”

Even if that team isn’t in his home state.

“I’m from Texas, I played for the best university in Texas,” Vaccaro said. “To play for America’s team would be great, but I just want to have the opportunity to play for any organization.”

Despite last season’s often listless defense, Vaccaro shined, leading the team in tackles and earning lauds including a first-team All-America selection by Pro Football Weekly and a first-team All-Big 12 selection. He duked it out in October with West Virginia’s speedy receiver Tavon Austin and tallied 11 tackles during the game.

Beneath Vaccaro’s tattooed skin, football runs deep in his blood. Vaccaro’s uncle, A.J. Johnson, played in the NFL with both the Washington Redskins and the San Diego Chargers. He aided the Redskins in claiming a Super Bowl victory in 1991.  

“Kenny is tough,” head coach Mack Brown said. “Kenny is like [Seattle Seahakws safety] Earl Thomas. He’s like a [Tennessee Titans safety] Michael Griffin. It’s easy to compare Kenny to the great ones. He plays with passion every day and he practices with passion.”

Vaccaro was invited to New York City to attend the draft, one of only 23 players asked to attend. The draft will begin Thursday night. 

“We have had a lot of guys that are invited to New York for the draft and it has always been a highlight,” Brown said. “It obviously means that you are going to be a first-round pick and very high on people’s list. It’s a great compliment to not only Kenny and not only [defensive backs coach] Duane Akina, but to our entire program.”

Despite the recognition and flurry of praise he’s received heading into the draft, Vaccaro is quick to give thanks for his talent, his accomplishments and his future.

“I never thought I’d be at this point,” Vaccaro said. “I’m so blessed. I thank God everyday that I got the opportunity to play this game.”

While Vince Young finalizes a degree in applied learning and development at Texas, he will also participate in the Longhorns’ Pro Day  in order to rekindle his relationship with the NFL.

Photo Credit: Matt Norris | Daily Texan Staff

For young NFL hopefuls, the Texas Pro Day will provide an opportunity to rub elbows with top coaches and other talented players. 

For more seasoned prospects like Vince Young, Pro Day will be a chance to prove themselves in the eyes of scouts in order to make a comeback. 

Tomorrow’s activities will allow Young, who is currently finishing up his degree at Texas, to retool the skills that made him a high draft pick in 2006.  

Young led Texas to a BCS National Championship in 2005, leaving many fans with hopes of a bright future for their star quarterback. But his professional story failed to inspire. After being drafted by the Titans and serving as a backup for the Eagles, Young was cut from the Buffalo Bills in 2012.  

Texas seniors entering the draft can showcase their skill sets in the familiar comfort zone of the Texas training facilities. While the official list of Pro Day attendees won’t be released until Tuesday, draft prospects Marquise Goodwin, Alex Okafor and Kenny Vaccaro can be expected because of their promising draft stock. 

The speedy receiver Goodwin clearly boasts running talent, but lacks the size of other top players. He dazzled at the NFL Scouting Combine with a 40-yard dash time of 4.27 seconds, nearly surpassing the previous record set by running back Chris Johnson in 2008. 

Safety Vaccaro has hard-hitting abilities, speed and natural athleticism, and was a top performer in the 20-yard shuttle at the NFL Combine, notching an impressive time of 4.06. analysts peg Vaccaro to go in the first round of the draft. 

Then there’s Okafor, who is also projected to be selected early in the draft. The defensive end developed strength and firm control over his feet during his sophomore year as a defensive tackle. Last season, he tallied 12.5 sacks and led the Big 12 conference in sacks per game with .96. 

Former Texas cornerback Nathan Vasher, who later played six seasons with the Chicago Bears, said Texas players are groomed to succeed in an environment like Pro Day. 

“We’ve been prepared day in and day out to showcase our talent,” Vasher said. “When the day comes, it’s going to be one of the biggest interviews of your life, and the important thing is getting to that team and being the best you can be.”

Printed on Tuesday, March 26, 2013 as: Going out with class