Breaking Down the Saints’ Rookie Class: Vinnie Sunseri

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Sunseri (43) goes through drills at the New Orleans Saints May 17th mini-camp under supervision of Defensive Backs Coach Wesley McGriff. (Photo Credit:  Stacy Revere/Getty Images North America)


In the 2014 NFL Draft the New Orleans Saints addressed three of their biggest needs; wide receiver, cornerback, and inside linebacker. On the clock again with the first of their two fifth round draft selections, they chose to continue an offseason-long process of bolstering the safety position by taking Alabama’s Vinnie Sunseri to go along with incumbents Kenny Vaccaro and Rafael Bush and free agent acquisitions Jairus Byrd and Marcus Ball. That’s a lot of talent stacked up at one position.

Sunseri was an important cog in Nick Saban’s secondary since 2011 as a true freshman. He saw action in all 13 games in 2011 as a rotational backup and special teams player before starting as Alabama’s dime (or fourth) defensive back in 2012, again playing in all thirteen games. In 2013 Sunseri was officially listed as the team’s starting strong safety, but he played a variety of positions beyond that including free safety and cornerback. He started the first seven games of the 2013 season before tearing his ACL. Sunseri has since recovered from that injury and was fully active for the Saints at their May minicamps; now he is looking to enter training camp.

To get an idea of how Sunseri could be used by the Saints, I watched five of his 2013 performances against Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Colorado State, Mississippi, and Kentucky. In Sunseri, I saw a player with great versatility and consistently solid technique whether tackling or covering opponents. There were clear weaknesses to his game – he lacks athleticism and ideal measurable for the position, and struggled to shed blocks at the second level. He contributed on special teams but lacked the top-end speed to excel in that role. However, Sunseri was reliable in coverage and as a tackler both in traffic at the line of scrimmage and in the open field – he only missed three tackles on twenty-two attempts, all in one game against Texas A&M.

Check out Sunseri’s coverage stats in the chart below.

 

Cover Snaps

Targets

Target %

Catches

Catch %

BP

INT

Total PD

PD %

vs VGT

14

2

14.29%

1

50.00%

0

1

1

50.00%

vs A&M

21

6

28.57%

2

33.33%

0

1

1

16.67%

vs CSU

14

2

14.29%

1

50.00%

0

0

0

0.00%

vs  MS

24

2

8.33%

1

50.00%

2

0

2

100.00%

vs KY

17

4

23.53%

1

25.00%

3

0

3

75.00%

AVG

18

3

17.80%

1

41.67%

1

0

1

48.33%

Total

90

16

17.78%

6

37.50%

5

2

7

43.75%

 

Sunseri was tested in coverage often in coverage; in 2013, Malcolm Jenkins was targeted on 10.04% of his coverage snaps and Jairus Byrd 5.71% of his. However, Sunseri failed to disappoint when thrown at as he gave up a very low average completion percentage of 41.67% and only allowed more than one completion in one game of the five that I watched. He also used his opportunities to often make plays on the ball, breaking up seven total passes and intercepting two of them for touchdowns. Sunseri regularly demonstrated a skill at reading and reacting to the quarterback’s intentions and was rarely beaten for big gains in coverage.

But how was he as a tackler?

 

Solo

Assist

Total

Miss

Miss %

vs VGT

1

3

4

0

0.00%

vs A&M

3

1

4

3

42.86%

vs CSU

5

1

6

0

0.00%

vs  MS

1

1

2

0

0.00%

vs KY

2

1

3

0

0.00%

AVG

2

1

4

1

8.57%

Total

12

7

19

3

13.64%

 

As the son of a linebackers coach (Florida State’s Sal Sunseri), Vinnie Sunseri tackles very well. He routinely took appropriate angles to the ball-carrier and used his arms and body positioning to reduce their options of moving around the field. Whenever he actually made contact, Sunseri textbook-tackled his opponents by squaring his shoulders, wrapping them up in the chest, and using his momentum to knock them off-balance and down to the ground. Sunseri had a bad game against Texas A&M, whiffing on several tackles, but everyone has bad days and I think that four games of good performances outweighs one bad outing.

What is most intriguing about Sunseri is his versatility. In the games that I watched he filled a variety of roles including free and strong safety as well as slot cornerback. In this manner he was very similar to Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro, who played all three of those positions and inside and outside linebacker in his 2013 rookie campaign. This leads me to believe that Sunseri is intended to back up Vaccaro and be a defensive chess piece in his own right.  While he is nowhere near the caliber of player that Vaccaro is, Sunseri is similarly versatile, reliable, and charismatic on the field. Now that he is wearing the Black and Gold, he certainly has a niche to fill over the coming years.

That is not to say that Sunseri has an easy road to making the Saints’ roster. He is one of several young, hungry and talented players competing for the Saints’ fourth and fifth safety spots. The Saints had ten defensive backs on their opening day roster in 2013, five of them safeties and the other five of them corners. I think it’s likely the Saints take the same approach this season, and Sunseri’s competition will be fierce.

He’s going to compete with Marcus Ball, a physical standout from the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, and Ty Zimmerman, a fellow rookie with a reputation as a ballhawk from Kansas State who many thought should have been drafted. Assuming the Saints carry five safeties in 2014, only two of those three have a real shot at making the roster as Vaccaro, Byrd, and Bush are all locked in to play from day one. Competition is a great thing to have and it should ensure that the best players make the final fifty-three roster spots. However, there is a possible loophole here; considering that Sunseri is coming off of a significant injury, if he does not separate himself from the group of competing safeties he could be saddled with a medical redshirt to stay on the team and compete for a job in 2015. It isn’t the most ideal solution because you always want to see your drafted players contribute right away, but it is an option the Saints’ brass are sure to be considering.