The Bucs made a mistake this offseason.

It was a little mistake, inconsequential in the grand scheme of the season, unless of course they let the issue fester. But it was a mistake, and one that needs to be rectified a quarter of the way through the season.

Despite being a buzzy offseason signing, LeSean McCoy is not helping this football team, and Ke’Shawn Vaughn might be able to.

RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Let’s start with the 32-year old McCoy, who is in his 12th season in the NFL and on his third team in as many seasons. He’s cooked, as hard as it is to say.

McCoy’s had a great career, but it’s evident watching him try to elude defenders, accelerate after the catch, or simply catch the ball at all (two drops on 11 targets this season), that the play-making ability in space that once made him special is gone.

McCoy is averaging a pedestrian six yards per catch on nine grabs this season, and has shown zero reason why this team should prioritize getting him on the field on passing downs, let alone getting the ball in his hands. The veteran’s pass protection has been also been abysmal, although the Bucs are currently without a positive contributor in the backfield in that regard.

I’m not saying Vaughn fixes all of that. I wasn’t high on him pre-draft and it’ll take a pretty high level of play from the rookie for me to be convinced the team didn’t reach for their “biggest need” in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

But the pass-catching and pass-protecting woes of the Bucs backfield members extend beyond McCoy’s struggles, to the point where it is almost worth seeing if anyone on the roster can provide a consistently sure target. Heck, Kenjon Barner got one snap to show what he could do and he dropped it, albeit after getting obliterated and knocked out of the game with a concussion.

Ronald Jones II is the running back the Bucs would like to lean on in the passing game, but he’s already dropped three passes on 17 targets, while picking up just 4.75 yards per catch – 4.75 yards! He’s averaging almost that much per rush. That is truly a mind-bogglingly abysmal number.

Leonard Fournette could still be more of an asset than Jones or McCoy in the passing game, but he’s dropped one pass on eight targets, while failing to do much of anything with his seven catches. The big back is just barely topping Jones’ impact per catch, averaging 4.86 yards per reception in three games.

Fournette deserves more of an opportunity to get going before we judge him too harshly, but the larger sample size from Jacksonville, where he caught 76 passes last season, suggests this is who he is. The former first-round pick averaged under seven yards per catch last season despite ample opportunity to be a difference-maker with the ball in his hands. Fournette may be an upgrade over McCoy and Jones on third down, but he’s not stood out in that regard either, and his pass protection has been dreadful pre-Tampa Bay.

Bucs RB Leonard Fournette

Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Enter Vaughn, who caught 66 passes for 648 yards in college, averaging just under 10 yards per reception. He’s got quality vision in the screen game, making plenty of plays in that area for Vanderbilt over the past two years. No, I don’t think he’ll be a very dynamic player in space either, but could he possibly be worse than the Bucs other options? I really don’t think so.

The Bucs have an almost unimaginable dearth of pass-catching talent in their current backfield, to the point that I’d be willing to try anyone on the roster in that role. Non-Vaughn backs have now combined for 28 catches on 40 targets for 146 yards with seven drops – SEVEN. Yikes. Jones and Fournette can carry the load on the ground, but passing makes the world go ’round in today’s NFL, and right now the Bucs can’t count on anybody in their backfield to catch the ball cleanly, let alone make a defender miss in space or break a tackle.

It’s time to see what Vaughn can do for this offense, and I’d be saying that even if he hadn’t caught two passes for 22 yards and a touchdown in his NFL offensive debut. Heck, even Vaughn dropped his third target on Sunday, and it took three injuries ahead of him at running back to even get the rookie on the field.

But three drops from Tampa Bay’s other backfield targets on Sunday and another listless, albeit brief, McCoy performance has me desperate for some level of competence out of this group in the passing game. Even if Fournette is back on Thursday night at Chicago, Vaughn should get a chance to make an impact on passing downs and in the screen game. It might not help a whole lot, but it sure can’t hurt.

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard is's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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9 months ago

Couldn’t agree more. Shady has done Fady, it’s time to see what Vaughn has. I think if Brady hits Vaughn in stride he scores on that underneath drop (it was on his hip, but still should have caught it).

9 months ago

Agree juju. Shady is a relict. Why is he even on the roster? Vaughn should replace Shady and we need to look at practice squads to see if any RB potential exists. We need to get younger at position not older. And I do like the Fournette signing. He will pay dividends as the season progresses.

9 months ago

Maybe they should think out of the box and put the BEST PLAYERS on the field in critical situations. To me, that means lining up one of the TEs in the backfield and let them catch the ball on 3rd and short as they are better pass catchers and blockers while giving up some ability to make defenders miss after the catch. Unfortunately, OJ Howard would have been the best player to put in that position and he now out for the year, though Brate has lined up in the backfield for Arians’ offense last year.

9 months ago

The NFL is no country for old man RB’s. Never liked the signing of McCoy, they can’t get rid of him fast enough for me. Should’ve kept Calais.

9 months ago

Not to mention, Shady holds the ball like he’s actively trying to fumble. I don’t want the ball anywhere near that guy during a critical moment.

9 months ago

Dream on about Vaughn, but he’s proven nothing.
OTOH, Shady has 500 receptions, is reliable, and knows how to stretch out for the first down. He had 3 drops on 80 targets 2018-9. I think TB12 trusts him. Fournette can also catch, with 6 drops on 100 targets last year. They are gaining 6.1 yards this year and 7.5 yards career, but what do you need on third down? And Kamara only averaged 6.6 yards per catch last year. I think Tom will figure out who he wants in there on 3rd down and Byron will go along.

Reply to  lambeau
9 months ago

I agree with you and completely disagree with Ledyard. YPC is a terrible measure of pass catching ability by a running back. It depends upon what the offense demands of the running back – is he a primary receiver for the quarterback, as Kamara is for Brees? Or is he the dumpoff guy when the wide receivers and tight ends aren’t open, just trying to move the chains? The key parameters are number of completed catches per target, number of drops per target, and number of times they move the chains. This season through four games McCoy has been targeted… Read more »

Ron Potter
9 months ago

Impressed by Vaughn. I was disappointed with the fans who complained about the draft pick. Wasn’t sure how the pick would turn out, but with the injury to LF and McCoy’s underwhelming performances, Vaughn is looking to be great depth at a position everyone thought we were very strong at to begin the season.

9 months ago

Jones had more than 3 drops just yesterday. Yes I know they go by a different standard but they were dropped. Tom wants Leonard back

9 months ago

To be fair, the averages per reception might be due to the small sample size thus far and the situational factors. Should be noted that RoJo averaged nearly 10 yards per reception last year. I think we’re okay… So if there’s a weakness on offense, maybe receiving from the RB position isn’t great, but we’ll see if Vaughn proves capable, RoJo improves, and Fournette can contribute as the season rolls on. Doesn’t seem we have any RB’s you can split out and catch the ball downfield though… Raymond Calais might’ve been able to become that kind if we hadn’t exposed… Read more »

9 months ago

Never should’ve kept McCoy over Calais. Now Calais is a Ram and there’s nothing the Bucs can do about it. Tried to sneak him onto the practice squad instead of keeping him on the 53 instead of McCoy. I think the Bucs will end up regretting that decision. Not to mention the wasted draft pick.

9 months ago

I get the point that we have no true pass-catching RB on the roster – sounds right. I don’t understand why the best strategy is to give four RBs an equal chance to show their ineptitude? Giving everyone a few touches is bound to make them all just uncomfortable enough to keep dropping it with regularity. We have a starter (and a backup) for a reason…supposedly.