Last season, the New Orleans Saints’ rookie class was one of the best since 2006 producing starters Kenny Vaccaro, Terron Armstead, Kenny Stills, and John Jenkins. This season, with the exception of Brandin Cooks and possibly Stanley Jean-Baptiste, the rookie class won’t feature as many bona fide starters. However, this doesn’t mean that an impact can’t be made by one of the young players.
One under the radar prospect to look at this year is Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri. In Tuscaloosa, his stats were not staggering; he recorded 31 tackles in 13 games in 2011 and 54 tackles, including 6 tackles for loss, in 14 games in 2012. However he started 2013 fast getting 2 pick sixes in his first two games. Unfortunately, after 2 games, his 2013 campaign was cut short due to a torn ACL, which he has recovered from at a remarkable pace.
Sunseri will be joining Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro, Rafael Bush, and Marcus Ball in the safety group. Despite the level of talent, Sunseri can possibly overtake Ball on the depth chart. If not, he will be the 5th safety, which isn’t the worst position to be in. Last year, Rob Ryan kept 5 safeties on the roster and used them all extensively throughout different points in the season in his unique 3-4 safety lineups. So though he won’t start, Sunseri may still see some playing time in special packages.
However, despite the sparse playing time on defense, Sunseri’s impact will be noticed the most on special teams. Last season, the Saints used a lot of their starters on their special teams’ coverage including Vaccaro, Malcolm Jenkins, and Roman Harper. This season, I believe the coaching staff wants to move away from using their starters to avoid injury risks. Instead they would like a younger, more athletic group as evidenced by the drafting of players like Ronald Powell and Khairi Fortt along with Sunseri.
While at Alabama, Sunseri made a name for himself on special teams and took pride in being an ace on that unit since he stepped foot on Alabama’s campus as a freshman. Sunseri’s work ethic and enthusiasm to play special teams will be an asset and could develop him into a special teams’ captain, if not this season, definitely next season.
With the Saints’ roster stacked with veterans, it will be difficult for any rookie to make an impact as a starter, so special teams will be the avenue for players to make an impression or make the team. That being said, Sunseri can be one of those impressive special teams’ players like Steve Gleason or Chris Reis who end up being a leader for the unit. And according to draft guru Mike Mayock, Sunseri has the tools to eventually become a starting safety in this league in the future.