After profiling O'Cyrus Torrence, who is one of the biggest offensive guard prospects you'll see, next we take a look at perhaps the smallest prospect in this year's draft, Deuce Vaughn, a tiny running back from Kansas State. I don't know yet whether he will enter the draft or stay in school. He's only a true junior and said that he won't make a decision until after the Sugar Bowl. K-State plays Alabama on December 31st. K-State has a number of other players who might enter the draft and be of interest to the Rams (they have an edge rusher and also an offensive lineman named Cooper Beebe who plays LG. ESPN currently has Beebe as about a late 4th round prospect. As always, Bama is stuffed full of future NFL talent, including RB, with Jahmyr Gibbs often ranked as the 2nd or 3rd best RB in the draft. So, the Sugar Bowl might be an interesting one to watch from a Rams draft POV.
If we went off of highlight videos, the obvious pro comparison for Vaughn would be former K-State mighty mouse, Darren Sproles, who was 5'6'' tall and 187 pounds and ran 4.46 sec in the 40. Sproles had an outstanding college career, rushing for nearly 5,000 yards with a 6.1 yards per carry average. He was a 4th round pick in 2005 by the Chargers. For several seasons, the RB depth chart for the Chargers consisted of future HOFer Ladainian Tomlinson, former 5th rd pick Michael Turner who had about 1,700 rushing yards his first year as a starter with Atlanta once he was out of the shadow of LT, and Sproles, a dynamic returner and explosive change of pace RB. Talk about quality depth, what an outstanding RB room.
When Sproles was in the NFL, I always felt that he was held back. Since he was so small, his coaches never trusted him to be a lead RB. He never had at least 100 carries in any season of his career. He had far more receiving yards than rushing yards. Sproles was very successful as a KR and PR specialist, making multiple Pro Bowls.
Sproles had a very long career despite his small size. He was still in the NFL in 2019 at the age of 36. He missed his entire 2nd season due to injury, then later in his career he suffered a torn ACL, but in between those injuries he was very consistent and reliable. Over the first 10 years of his career, Sproles averaged 5.2 yards per carry. If Sproles had been drafted in 2022 instead of 2005, I think he would have been even more dangerous, because the NFL has become even more of a spread out game played in space. Put Sproles in this year's draft, we might be talking about him as one of the top RB prospects in the class.
Last summer, PFF made a list of the top RBs in college football. They put Vaughn at the top of the list. The number 2 RB was Bijan Robinson, followed in 3rd place by Blake Corum. Robinson is projected to be a 1st round pick, perhaps even a high 1st rounder. Corum is bigger than Vaughn, but not by a great margin, with Corum being only 5'8'' tall. Vaughn had a strong 2022, with even more rushing yards than he had in 2021. Nevertheless, if you look at major draft boards, Deuce Vaughn is expected to be either an UDFA or maybe a late round draft pick.
So, if Vaughn at one time was supposedly better than Robinson and Corum, and had a good 2022, why are the other guys early round picks, while Vaughn has become an afterthought who might not be picked at all? Is Deuce Vaughn the most underrated prospect in this draft? Is he the next Darren Sproles? Or was he way overrated by PFF? Are there other flaws in his game besides just being incredibly small? Should he stay in college instead of trying to enter the draft? Vaughn is very active with NIL deals, so he's probably making some money at K-State, a factor that could make it easier to stay another year instead of going pro. Would you rather be a superstar in college for one more year or potentially be on an NFL practice squad and never get to play in any games in 2023?
Name: Christopher "Deuce" Vaughn, true Junior, 21 years old
School: Kansas State
Size: Listed 5'6'' tall, 176 pounds. Per NFLDraftBuzz 4.43 sec (40 time).
His dad, Chris Vaughn, is the assistant director of college scouting for the Dallas Cowboys. His dad was a longtime college assistant, mostly with DBs, but got fired by Texas after the NCAA charged him with a number of recruiting violations from his time at Ole Miss under Houston Nutt. The NCAA alleged that he was involved with fraudulent ACT exams. There was another assistant coach also allegedly involved. Got to love SEC football, right?
Deuce had 4,405 career rushing yards in high school in Texas. Due to his size, colleges were skeptical about him as a recruit.
Good student. As of 2021, he had a 3.65 GPA in business administration or marketing.
Extremely professional in interviews. Outstanding, NFL type answers to questions, mature, humble. Even though he's younger than the average prospect he already talks to reporters like a seasoned NFL veteran. Unselfish, team first attitude, doesn't have a me-first ego (Do you know any running backs like that? Hmmmm.)
Reportedly squats 425 pounds and can do 20 bench reps.
Had 89.0 PFF receiving grade in 2021. Per TDN, only had one dropped pass in 2022.
2020: 123-642-7 rushing, 25-434-2 receiving, one fumble, 7 KR attempts.
2021: 235-1,404-18 rushing, 49-468-4 receiving, one fumble. Consensus All American.
2022: 271-1,425-8 rushing, 42-378-3 receiving, one fumble
Career 5.5 yards per carry average. Has 3 career fumbles on 745 touches, which is a very low fumble rate of one every 248 touches.
Limped off field vs Texas Tech in 2022, but returned. Had leg injury in 4th qtr vs ISU 2022, but played in the next game. I'm not aware of any major injuries. Had viral highlight play on long TD run vs TCU, where he cuts in open field, causing the defender to fall to the ground.
ESPN 16th RB, 233rd overall (7th round)
NFLDraftBuzz 25th RB, 271st overall (UDFA)
PFN Simulator 18th RB, 209th overall (late 6th)
Drafttek 22nd RB, 270th overall (UDFA)
DraftCountdown (Shane Hallam) 23rd RB (UDFA)
So, the consensus appears to be a priority UDFA, maybe taken late in the 7th round.
NFLDraftBuzz says he's an elite receiver, natural hands, high points the ball, runs routes well.
While his size limits him as a receiver, he's very dangerous as a receiver. Good production and I feel he could have had even more receiving yards, but K-State's scheme wasn't set up to feature him that way. Lined up in the slot as well as coming out of the backfield. What makes him so tough to stop is he can run essentially 4 different routes from the same stem that all look identical prior to the break point. The defender has to just randomly guess, because it is nearly impossible to tell what Vaughn is going to do. Repeatedly, Vaughn destroyed the coverage, both vs LBs and DBs.
The first route is a Texas route. He can widen the defender, then sharply cut it inside. Vaughn has wiggle within the first part of the route, where his hips or a subtle head fake makes the defender think he's going outside. When the defender steps outside, it creates more space to the inside and nice separation.
The second option is the opposite, he can make it look like a Texas route, like with a head fake, then cut outside instead towards the sideline.
What separates Vaughn from other receiving RBs is he's very good at a 3rd option. Once the defense gets sucked up trying to smother the short routes, Vaughn can make it look like he's about to break, but then suddenly burst by them and run directly up the seam for a deeper pass. Deceptive and tricky with hesitation moves or subtle fakes, smoothly slipping by, Vaughn roasted defenders, leaving them in the dust and popping wide open.
The 4th option is to just sit down into space, say with a short curl route. If the defense lays off to try to take away the seam route or they try to shade to one side, Vaughn can just snap off the route and turn towards the QB.
I don't know how their offense works, but my guess is that at KSU, the route Vaughn ran each time was predetermined. In the NFL, you could have him run option routes where he had freedom to select how he was going to break based on how the defensive coverage was set up.
Dangerous on wheel routes going up the sideline, too fast for LBs to carry him down the field. Calm catching the ball over the shoulder. Can dive and catch off target throws that are low or wide.
Good leg strength for his size. Can stay up after initial contact and try to fight for yards even if the defender has him wrapped up (typically he can't move the defender himself, but maybe his OL can join the pile and help push him forward.)
Very explosive forward burst once he sees a wide open lane, destroys pursuit angles with shocking acceleration to get through the middle before defensive help from the side can arrive and close down the opening.
Lateral jump cuts in the backfield to cancel TFLs. Run blitz by LB, penetrating into backfield, the RB jumps sideways and the LB whiffs on the tackle. Can squeeze through small openings at the line.
Sharp cuts left defenders grasping for air and tackling ghosts, flying by or falling down with broken ankles. Home run threat once in open field if he can get through the line with a head of steam and is at full speed.
Willing blocker with sound technique. Will sacrifice his body and even launch himself into a blitzer. Will square up and take on much bigger defenders while standing up or other times go for cut block. Amazingly, he does "win" some pass blocks by delaying the blitzer or even completely stopping them. Initially, I thought he was going to be beaten every time, because the first couple of plays I saw he had no chance and got run over. The more games I watched, I'd roughly guess that it was about 50/50. On some plays, Vaughn makes me think of those short posts used as traffic barriers to prevent cars from accidentally driving into buildings. He's standing there and this huge defender is running straight at him and you think he's going to get smashed, but he holds his ground and slows them down. So, overall I'd say he's below average in pass blocking, but he's not completely useless as a blocker.
I don't like him as an outside zone RB, but he's good on Duo runs, gap scheme runs where he's behind pulling linemen, and draws or traps where he can gash the defense by darting through openings at the line. Was used in shotgun based offense with read options and I feel he might have had even more rushing yards if he had been in a different offensive scheme that fit him better.
Since he can be used as a slot back, he has value on jet sweeps. He's fast, but potentially better than using a WR, because he has better elusiveness and ball security than a typical fast slot WR. Many WRs can run fast in a straight line, but they don't break tackles and aren't shifty. Vaughn has speed to get around the corner and if there is a defender waiting for him there he has a better chance at beating them to create a potential big play.
Potential early entrant, younger than average prospect. Professional in his football preparation, intelligent. Son of former football coach, has leadership potential. Seems like a player who will be accountable and consistent.
It scares me when he gets picked up in the air by defenders. Like a scene from Jurassic Park, it looks like they are going to break him in half, then eat him alive for lunch. He's so tiny and they fling him around so easily, like a small child trying to fight a group of giants. How is he going to avoid getting hurt in the NFL?
I hate his running style. Hesitant, dances, too many moves in the hole instead of putting his foot in the ground, being direct and getting downhill. Indecisive with open field cuts, sometimes making a poor choice. Excessive fakes at or behind the LOS.
Waits to see the hole open up, not an anticipatory RB with imagination and vision to anticipate the OL creating the hole and heading towards it before the hole appears at the LOS. This makes him late to hit lanes, which wasn't punished much at the college level, but this is going to be a problem in the NFL. Average vision. Missed a huge cutback lane.
Hesitant and timid approach to lane choices. One play, he literally stopped behind the LOS, momentarily pausing. Tries to bounce it outside much too often instead of putting his head down and trying to plow ahead for 1 to 2 yards. One of his go to moves is he tries to string the defense wider, then look for a gap to cut upfield. This might have worked for him at KSU from time to time, but that habit doesn't work in the NFL, the defenders are too fast and when you run sideways usually what happens is they swarm you. Turns a TFL into an even bigger loss of yardage by running wider and backwards instead of giving up and diving towards the LOS. Turns down opportunities to battle for tough yards, finesse style.
On wide zone runs, he is indecisive, which causes him to run "slow". Like he can't make up his mind whether to go outside or cut it back inside, so he just drifts towards the LOS, then the defense tackles him.
A bunch of his rushing yardage came on plays where there was a huge opening to run through and he could just use his speed to race downfield. Needs a good OL to roll out the red carpet. Not talented at manufacturing yards on his own around the LOS or create his own opening.
Essentially zero running strength to power through tackles. Poor ability to break out of arm tackles. No value as short yardage runner.
Not elite in elusiveness. His rate of making the first defender miss in 1 vs 1 situations isn't as high as it needs to be to be an impact NFL RB.
Too small as a blocker. Feeble attempt at chip blocks. Whiffed on chip block, nearly causing a strip sack. Defenders easily push their way through him or can go around him, because his frame is so small with no length as a blocker. Unable to sustain blocks. After the initial hit, even if he succeeds in keeping them from crashing in on the QB, what often happens next is the defender collects their balance and either pushes him away or goes around him. DT shoved him away like he was an annoying little kid trying to get an autograph. Vaughn gives solid effort as a blocker, but he's just way too small.
Below average balance for a small RB. Lost balance, tripped and fell down at the LOS trying to make juke move. Defenders grabbing his leg or diving at his feet can trip him up and he isn't skilled at jumping over their arms. A couple plays he was about to break into the wide open field (one for a likely long TD), but as he got through the hole or by the last defender he got knocked or stumbled off balance and fell down, unable to stay up and keep running.
Very small catch radius. On a speed out, his cut is not sharp. QB throws pass over defender and ball is a little high, Vaughn jumps up in the air, but still not close to catching the pass. Not an easy target for the QB to hit even on short passes to the flat or on screens. Can't throw backshoulder balls to him, too small.
While he is fast with his initial burst, his speed does top out in the open field and it is possible for an extremely fast CB or a defender with a good angle to close him down. Probably not from directly behind, but if they are coming from the side they might have a shot. He's fast, but he doesn't look like he's 4.3 sec type fast.
Has scheme limitations. I don't feel that he's a good fit for a zone scheme team. He could be a good fit for a spread offense type or a gap/power scheme team.
Low ceiling. Projects as a return specialist in the NFL, but he doesn't have much return experience in college.
Draft Grade and Pro Comp
7th round, Kerwynn Williams (7th round 2013, Colts, Utah State)
His final season in college, Williams had 1,512 rushing yards, 15 rush TDs, caught 45 balls for 697 yards and 5 more TDs. In the NFL he was used primarily as a return specialist. Initially, he was a practice squad type. He did start a few games at one point, but if I remember correctly, I believe it was because his team had a bunch of injuries at RB. Williams was one of my favorite late round RB prospects in his draft class.
I found Vaughn's game tape to be disappointing relative to his impressive statistical production. He's not as good a prospect as I was hoping to see. In my view, he's not a backup RB, he's only a gadget, niche player in the NFL. He could compete with someone like Brandon Powell on a team's roster. Return kicks, then on offense once in a while he could get a few plays either to catch a pass or a couple of carries. He'd be a 4th string RB type of player.
Sproles was a more complete RB relative to Vaughn. I think Sproles had better instincts as a runner, but even so Sproles was essentially a 3rd RB for much of his pro career. I don't think Vaughn is on the same level as Sproles, which is why I decided not to use him as the NFL comparison.
Vaughn has very good intangibles, good speed, has receiving and potential ST value, so there's probably at least a 50% chance he makes an NFL roster at some point. That's why I still have him as a draftable player. If he doesn't get selected, he'd be a priority UDFA and multiple teams would probably be trying to convince him to sign with them. I don't see him as a draft sleeper, because I think he has a low ceiling. I view him as just a role player, not a true offensive weapon.
I think Travis Dye is a better pure runner than Vaughn, but Dye suffered a serious knee injury. So, while I have 7th round grades on both prospects, there are different pros and cons with each RB.