- Carter Strickland, Reporter, HornsNation
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Kenny Vaccaro's story is different.
Not entirely unique. But different just the same. Four years ago he was more of a looked-over than picked-over prospect. He didn't make the ESPN 150. He didn't even make the top 40 at his position in the ESPN rankings. He was 42nd among safeties.
Now four years later, he could be the first at that position selected in the NFL draft.
"All you high school kids worried about stars on rivals, don't worry, it's all about how you finish ... Keep a chip on your shoulder at all times,'' he wrote on Twitter recently.
Vaccaro's chip has been firmly in place since he arrived at Texas and has allowed him to become a potential first-round pick. If the safety is taken in the first round he will become the fifth Texas player in Mack Brown's tenure who walked into the program underrated and walked out as a first-round pick.
Oddly enough, or maybe not so oddly as will become clear later, three others, Quentin Jammer, Michael Huff and Aaron Ross, were also defensive backs. The other was Mike Williams, a defensive tackle in high school who became an offensive tackle and was taken fourth overall in 2002.
So it is possible to come from just this side of nowhere to somewhere at Texas. Although, it is highly unlikely.
Of the 52 Texas players drafted since 2000, the overwhelming majority -- 85 percent -- were considered top prospects by one recruiting service or another. Of course there were exceptions. The aforementioned four are evidence of that. So too are players like Brian Robison -- a fourth-round pick who was barely a top 50 recruit at his position -- Colt McCoy -- a third-round pick who was not rated nationally by some -- and a few others.
But, again, those are the exceptions. More often than not the Texas players who have been selected in the NFL draft were also those players who were pegged as top recruits.
In fact, of the 20 Texas players on offense to be drafted since 2000, 18 of them were considered to be in the top 20 of their position and/or a part of the ESPN 150 and/or earned high school All-American honors and/or first-team all-state honors. The two that didn't were Williams, a second-team all-state selection, and Chris Ogbonnaya.
On the defensive side of the ball, only six of the 32 players drafted since 2000 were not either top 15 at their position and/or a part of the ESPN's 150 and/or earned all-American and/or first-team all-state honors. Those six were the aforementioned three defensive backs plus Robison, a second-team all-state selection, Marcus Tubbs, who started football as a junior in high school, and Shaun Rogers, who was not recruited by Mack Brown.
So with 85 percent of Texas' draft picks falling into the aforementioned categories, the top predictor for a Texas player's path to success, at least monetary success via the draft, is how highly that player is ranked coming out of high school and what state or national accolades he receives. True there are exceptions. And it is also true that high accolades coming out of high school do not equal success at the collegiate or pro levels. Texas' past is littered with high-ranking players such as Tray Allen and Edorian McCullough, who for one reason or another did not make it.
Now, there are a few indicators, at least judging from the data provided by the last 13 years, that can help when wondering whether a player will or will not make it to the next level from Texas.
First off, if the player is on defense, particularly the line or secondary, his chances of being drafted are better. Half of the Texas players (26) drafted since 2000 have been either defensive backs or defensive linemen. Since 2009, Texas has had 14 defensive players taken and just three offensive players selected.
Not surprisingly the one correlation that can be drawn between player/program and development is that Texas has had Duane Akina as its defensive backs coach since 2001. He has had 12 players drafted, and that number will tick to 13 with Vaccaro's selection Thursday.
No coach on the staff has developed more players into NFL draft picks. Four of the 13 -- Ross, Jammer, Huff and Vaccaro -- did not make all-state in Texas. Three were selected in the first 20 picks. Vaccaro is expected to be selected by the 20th pick, as well.
But it is the defensive line that produces the most next-level talent. Fourteen defensive linemen have been drafted since 2000. Three of those -- Cedric Woodard, Rogers and Casey Hampton -- were not recruited by the current staff, and another player, Henry Melton, actually was a running back before becoming a defensive lineman. Still the development and production has been steady at this position.
Really, both defensive back and defensive line should be among Texas' top producers for next-level talent. Texas takes more players at those spots than any other. From 1999-2011, there were 101 defensive linemen (52) and defensive backs (49) signed to letters of intent at Texas. The only other position that rivals either of those is offensive line, where 49 players were signed in that same time period.
The disparity in evaluation and development becomes startlingly clear between defense and offense when the spotlight is turned to NFL draft success.
Texas has had only seven offensive linemen drafted since 2000. Five of those players were tabbed high school All-Americans by either Parade or USA Today. Another, Kasey Studdard, played in the U.S. Army All-American game. Only Mike Williams was somewhat under the radar, and he was a second-team 5A all-state selection.
Clearly, Vaccaro's tweet does not apply to offensive linemen, at least not the offensive linemen who have been through Texas' program.
But it does apply to him and a small number of other players whose stories were slightly different when they came to Texas, as well as when they left it.
42mMichael C. Wright