The Buccaneers were pre-draft favorites to select a running back at some point in the draft and that common sense prevailed when Tampa made Ke’Shawn Vaughn the 76th overall pick in the third round. Vaughn just notched back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in his final two years at Vanderbilt and averaged 6.4 yards per carry behind one of the least talented offensive lines in the SEC. With only Ronald Jones , Dare Ogunbowale, and seventh-round pick Raymond Calais on the depth chart at running back, Vaughn is walking into a wide-open competition for starting touches.
Vaughn’s fit with the Bucs’ makes sense. At Vanderbilt, Vaughn predominantly ran in a zone-based scheme that used at least two tight ends on the field on 38% of his carries last season. HC Bruce Arians uses zone concepts in his run game frequently and I’d imagine the Bucs’ will rely fairly heavily on 2WR/2TE sets of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, and O.J. Howard this coming year.
With Tom Brady under center, figuring out the Buccaneers backfield will be one of the keys to the 2020 season. Let’s take a look at where Vaughn wins in yards created.
This is what I wrote about Vaughn in my pre-draft breakdown:
“Vaughn is a boom-or-bust, straight-line speedster with an attacking running style. Vaughn ranked 2nd in the class in yards created per attempt (5.41), but he’s not a consistently creative back. Vaughn created 5 or more yards on just 21% of his carries, tying Darrynton Evans for the lowest rate in the class. Vaughn is a home run hitter when he’s given a lane, but he lacks wiggle in open space. 84% of Vaughn’s missed tackles came by running past a defender or making them miss with power.”
Vaughn was inconsistent at times in college, but to be fair, his offensive line rarely did him many favors. Last year, 22% of Vanderbilt’s carries were stuffed for zero yards or a loss (ranked 110th in college football) and Vaughn was contacted behind the line of scrimmage on 27% of his carries (second-most behind Cam Akers at 30%).
He did make the most of his runs when he got a rushing lane, though. Vaughn was an explosive inside-zone runner, leading the class in yards created per attempt (5.99) on carries in between the tackles. At 5-10, 214lbs with 4.5 wheels, Vaughn’s downhill running style is something the Buccaneers missed last year.
At worst, Vaughn is a workmanlike “1A” or “1B” in a committee with Ronald Jones. However, I think Vaughn may have three-down potential in Tampa. Vaughn flashed “untapped potential” as a receiver according to Greg Cosell’s pre-draft scouting report after he caught 28 balls last season. And per my charting, Vaughn ranked 3rd-best in this class in pass protection execution behind D’Andre Swift (90%) and Zack Moss (88%). Vaughn showed a clear ability to anticipate oncoming blitzers and square up to them in pass protection, which we know is a trait that Tom Brady values in his running backs.
The Bucs’ will likely use a variety of different personnel packages this year and Vaughn will immediately familiar with them. Unlike most college backs, Vaughn is used to running both out of the shotgun and from under center as 57% of his carries last season came with the QB at the line of scrimmage. Last year, over 80% of Ronald Jones’ carries came with Jameis Winston under center.
Vaughn fits in the Buccaneers rushing scheme well, but whether or not he beats out Jones for the starting job will be one of the biggest fantasy storylines of the season. Jones quietly put together a nice bounce-back campaign after a rough rookie year, going for over 1,000 total yards and 6 TDs in 2019. Consistency remains a problem for Jones, though. He was held under 40 rushing yards nine times last year.
There are a few factors working in Vaughn’s favor over Jones, though. First and foremost, Vaughn may simply be a better prospect than Jones was coming out of college. Vaughn averaged more yards created per attempt (5.41 vs. 3.97), gained more yards per route run (1.2 vs. 0.9), and is a far better pass protector. While Vaughn was one of the most willing pass protectors in this rookie class, Jones’ 55% pass protection execution rate ranked dead last in the 2017 class.
To boot, Vaughn nearly caught more balls in his final year at Vanderbilt (28 receptions in 12 games) than Jones did in his entire career at USC (32 receptions in 40 games).
Keep in mind, Jones was routinely taken off of the field in favor of Dare Ogunbowale on passing downs last year. Per PFF, Ogunbowale was on the field for 231 pass plays (compared to 177 for Jones) and Ogunbowale was asked to pass block on 77 snaps (41 for Jones). Meanwhile, Vaughn was a workhorse back at Vanderbilt, playing on 71% of his team’s snaps while only Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Eno Benjamin ran more pass routes per game in this RB draft class.
Tracking Vaughn’s re-draft and dynasty fantasy draft position will be fascinating to watch. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely we see players going through OTAs or training camp any time soon. It’s possible rookies get a fraction of their normal practice reps and time in meetings this summer, which may put Vaughn at a disadvantage in his battle for touches with Jones. My guess is that Vaughn will settle in as a fifth- or sixth-round draft pick in seasonal leagues this summer and a late-first round selection in rookie dynasty drafts. We have Vaughn as our RB21 in our dynasty rankings ahead of Leonard Fournette, Devin Singletary, and Le’Veon Bell.