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FAB 1. Bucs Believe Vaughn Was Worth A Third-Round Pick
Of all Tampa Bay’s selections in the 2020 NFL Draft none came with more scrutiny than the team’s third-round pick, Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn. It’s not that Vaughn isn’t a good player, but was he a good value in the third round?
NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein had a fourth-round grade on Vaughn and equated him to a backup/special teamer.
Vaughn was the eighth-rated running back by Pro Football Focus and ranked as the 146th best player on the PFF Big Board, carrying a fifth-round projection.
Vaughn was the 13th-rated running back by The Draft Network and ranked as the 156th best player on the TDN Big Board.
Vaughn was selected with the 76th overall pick.
“Sure to be a darling in fantasy football leagues due to his favorable destination with Tom Brady, Vaughn has Brady’s old receiving back Shane Vereen as his closest comparable player,” PFF writes. “The rest of Vaughn’s top comps have had receiving success, but not a dominant workload on the ground.”
Vereen played in the NFL for seven years, including the first four in New England where the Patriots drafted him in the second round in 2011, but he never even rushed for 400 yards in any given season, and wound up with just 1,489 yards and eight touchdowns on 356 carries. Where Vereen excelled was as a third-down back and receiver out of the backfield, catching 221 passes for 1,865 yards and 11 touchdowns.
So did the Bucs just spend a third-round pick on a third-down back? It wouldn’t be the first time.
General manager Jason Licht used the 69th overall pick in 2014 to select running back Charles Sims in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Sims didn’t total more than 400 combined yards in any season other than 2015 when he rushed for a career-high 529 yards and post 561 yards receiving yards on a career-high 51 catches.
Sims totaled eight touchdowns and 2,148 yards in his four-year NFL career. The Bucs didn’t re-sign him after his rookie contract expired and no other team did, either.
The Bucs believe the 5-foot-9, 214-pound Vaughn is more than just a third-down back. He posted 3,296 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns in four years of college football, which started with two seasons at Illinois before he transferred to Vanderbilt. Vaughn burst onto the scene in the Big Ten as a freshman, rushing or 723 yards and six touchdowns, while averaging 4.6 yards per carry. He transferred to Vanderbilt for more playing time after his sophomore year where he was limited to 301 yards and three touchdowns, while averaging 5.0 yards per carry.
Vaughn had a sensational junior year in his first season with the Commodores, rushing for 1,244 yards and 12 touchdowns, while averaging a gaudy 7.9 yards per carry. Vaughn, who rushed for a career-high 243 yards and two touchdowns in a bowl game against Baylor, also had 13 catches for 170 yards and two scores (13.1 avg.) in 2018 during his junior campaign.
As a senior, Vaughn was a marked man as Vanderbilt lost its quarterback and other key offensive weapons to graduation. He rushed for 1,028 yards and nine touchdowns as his average dipped to 5.2 yards per carry, and Vaughn caught a career-high 28 passes for 270 yards (9.6 avg.) and one score.
It will be interesting to see if Vaughn is simply a third-down back like Sims or Vereen, or if he can be more than that at the NFL and challenge Ronald Jones II for carries on first and second down, too. The Bucs are inclined to believe he’s the latter – hence the third down pick.
Tampa Bay also believes Vaughn is faster than the 4.51 time he put up at the NFL Scouting Combine, and it’s that speed that will make him more effective than some are expecting at the next level.
“We actually had a little faster time on him from the old hand-timed scout deal,” Bucs director of player personnel John Spytek said. “Not markedly faster, but faster. I think you have to tip your hat to the production he put up in a hard conference. He had back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons, and that is a pretty good accomplishment in the SEC.”
Vaughn didn’t exactly light it up at the Combine from an athletic standpoint, as the MockDraftable.com spider chart shows above. His only standout trait is the 40-yard dash time that Tampa Bay director of college scouting Mike Biehl said was timed under 4.5 for the team’s scouts.
“We had him timed faster than that, too,” Biehl said. “We were more in the mid- to high-4.4s, but the play speed is more important. At 215 pounds, he does a nice job of carrying that weight and being able to move. He’s a three-down back and he can do a lot of different things for us. He had a really good year two years ago, but dropped off a little bit his senior year. If you look at Vandy’s team last year, they kind of did as a whole, and he was kind of a product of that.”
One game in which Vaughn really produced was against LSU and the stingy Tigers defense. Vaughn impressed by rushing for 130 yards and two touchdowns, while averaging 6.5 yards per carry, in addition to catching two passes for 21 yards.
“The game we were drawn to was the LSU game against the eventual national champions,” Biehl said. “Yes, the game was lopsided, but if anyone stood out on Vanderbilt’s team that day it was him. I think you have to appreciate that – both the ability to do it and the mentality to not back down from LSU. He wasn’t there to say, ‘I played against LSU.’ He was there to put up numbers and try to win. I appreciate the competitiveness of that kid.
“It tells you that guys like him will rise to the big games and that they aren’t afraid of the competition and the bright lights. Some guys just fold in those type of games because they can’t handle it. You want to watch a guy’s season as a whole, but when you throw on those games and match-ups and they still continue to raise the level of their play and perform it’s a huge thing. He’s done a nice job. I was actually at that bowl game against Baylor and he played real well. He has a little bit of an edge to him. He’s tough and not afraid to mix it up between the tackles, yet has enough speed and quickness to run outside. He can help us in the passing game, too.”
It’s not just Vaughn’s stats or his measureables that excite the Bucs. It’s his mentality – the edge that Biehl was talking about.
“We got the chance to spend some time with him and the way he’s wired and the gritty competitiveness he has – and I think you might have seen Coach [Derek] Mason reference Richard Sherman when talking about him,” Spytek said. “I’m going to stop short of saying he’s going to become Richard Sherman, but he’s got some of that tough-minded, take-no-prisoners mentality. He’s got an ‘I’m not here to screw around – I’m here to play ball, and if you’re not going to be on board with that then I don’t have a lot of time for your attitude. We thought it meshed well with where we’re trying to head and certainly with the quarterback we added in the offseason. He’s an older kid. He’s mature.”
Vaughn ranked as the 30th best player in getting yards after contact with 743 last year, and he was 27th with missed tackles forced with 55. PewterReport.com’s draft expert and Bucs beat writer Jon Ledyard wasn’t terribly impressed with the Vaughn selection, and stated as much in his article “Vaughn Doesn’t Fix Bucs’ Running Game (And That’s Okay).”
Vaughn was the Bucs’ most controversial and interesting pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. It will be fascinating to see where his ceiling is in the NFL.
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