Why Buccaneers RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn Isn’t Actually An Underrated Fantasy Prospect

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Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images. Pictured: Ke’Shawn Vaughn

Ke’Shawn Vaughn Dynasty Rookie Analysis

  • Draft Position: 3.76 | School: Vanderbilt
  • Height: 5’10” | Weight: 214 pounds
  • 40-yard dash: 4.51 seconds
  • 2020 Age: 23 | Class: Redshirt Senior
  • Recruitment Stars: 3-4

This is a straight-up appeasement pick. If I have Vaughn any lower in my rankings, I’ll have to forfeit my status as a card-carrying member of the dynasty industry guild.

The situation is ostensibly good for Vaughn in Tampa Bay.

He’s bigger than third-year running back Ronald Jones, and he might be the better receiver, given his 41-440-3 pass-catching stat line in his two years as the lead back for the Commodores.

It’s not hard to envision a scenario in which he wins the starting job, and there’s a lot of enthusiasm in the industry for what Vaughn could accomplish as the lead back in an offense led by quarterback Tom Brady.

If we compare what Jones and Vaughn did in college, there’s no question that Vaughn looks a lot better.

But it’s worth keeping in mind that Jones was significantly younger as a college prospect. In fact …

… well, that’s interesting.

You know, it occurs to me that — as a general rule — older players with no NFL experience generally don’t replace younger players with two seasons of professional service. Especially when the same general manager drafted both players, the younger guy at pick No. 38 and the older guy at pick No. 76. And especially when the same coach just saw the younger back get 1,000-plus scrimmage yards the year prior.

People are acting as if Jones is trash. He was admittedly horrible as a rookie (23-44-1 rushing, 7-33-0 receiving), but he was dealing with injuries, and the entire team was bad that year in the final season of head coach Dirk Koetter’s tenure. With Bruce Arians in 2019, Jones had 1,033 scrimmage yards and six touchdowns on just 203 touches.

Other than Jones (and Saquon Barkley), only 23 other backs selected in Rounds 1-3 have had 1,000-plus scrimmage yards as 22-year-old second-season players (per Pro Football Reference). These guys are among the most elite in NFL history.

The first four guys on the list: Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith.

The four most recent guys, right before Jones and Barkley, who did it last year: Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Joe Mixon and Christian McCaffrey.

What did these 23 guys do the year after putting up 1,000 yards at the age of 22?

They dominated.

With the exception of Le’Veon Bell and Edgerrin James — both of whom played only six games because of injury, and both of whom returned to form in their fourth seasons — only one of the 22-year-old 1,000-yard producers failed to lead his team’s backfield the following season: Marshawn Lynch in 2009, when he was benched in Buffalo and replaced by the 28-year-old veteran overachiever Fred Jackson.

You can say that Jones isn’t comparable to Lynch or McCaffrey or anyone else in the cohort. That might be fair.

Counterpoint: I can say that Vaughn isn’t comparable to F-Jax, who had five 1,000-yard campaigns in his career and was literally seven years removed from college when he took over for Lynch in 2009.

Vaughn is a rookie. A 23-year-old third-round rookie.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but based on how people are currently viewing Vaughn, I guess I do.

Over the past 20 years, only three backs to enter the league as 23-year-old third-rounders have had multiple seasons of NFL success: DeMarco Murray (2011, 3.71), Brian Westbrook (2002, 3.81) and Reuben Droughns (2001, 3.81).

I’m just going to assert out of hand that Vaughn is not Murray or Westbrook, both of whom were far superior as receivers in college.

  • Brian Westbrook (46 games): 219 receptions, 2,582 yards receiving
  • DeMarco Murray (50 games): 157 receptions, 1,571 yards receiving
  • Ke’Shawn Vaughn (46 games): 66 receptions, 648 yards receiving

Yeah … not even close.

But if you want to say that Vaughn has some Droughns-esque potential … haha … sure, you do that.

By the way, Droughns had only 258 scrimmage yards in his first three NFL seasons and didn’t accomplish anything in the NFL until Broncos HC Mike Shanahan decided to trade away lead back Clinton Portis and go cheap at the position.

But, yeah, Droughns is definitely the guy you want to hang your Vaughn hat on.

You can say that Vaughn is better than Jones as a receiver. He certainly was more productive in the passing game in college.

  • Ke’Shawn Vaughn (46 games): 66 receptions, 648 yards receiving
  • Ronald Jones (40 games): 32 receptions, 302 yards receiving

But last year Jones had a 31-309-0 receiving line on 40 targets — while splitting snaps with Ronald Jones and Dare Ogunbowale. That’s not bad.

Are we sure that Vaughn can do better than that? Maybe he can, but of the two backs, Jones is the only who has faced major league pitching, you know what I mean?

I don’t want to be in the position of needing to make a case against Vaughn — because entering the draft, I actually liked him as a prospect.

As an 18-year-old freshman at Illinois, he led his team in rushing with 723 yards on 157 carries. After he transferred to Vanderbilt, he had two productive seasons against tough SEC competition while playing on a subpar team (6-7 in 2018, 3-9 in 2019). Per SIS:

  • 2018 (12 games): 157-1,244-12 rushing, 12-168-2 receiving on 17 targets
  • 2019 (12 games): 198-1,028-9 rushing, 29-286-1 receiving on 34 targets

Vaughn is a no-nonsense powerful runner and a competent all-around football player.

But he doesn’t make guys miss as a runner, and as a receiver, let’s not pretend as if he’s great. Per SIS: “He isn’t a great route runner and runs most of his routes out of the backfield in the form of check & release, swing and screen routes.”

If Vaughn had landed with any other team in the third round — literally any other team — people would not be talking about how underrated he is.

The circumstances look good for him in Tampa Bay … but circumstances can be hard to evaluate, and circumstances can change.

People are assuming that he’ll be able to beat out Jones for the lead job — and, again, I can easily see how it could happen — but what if he doesn’t?

What if the guy who had 1,000 yards last year and was selected with the higher pick and has two years of NFL experience and one year of credit with the coaching staff and is actually younger — what if that guy turns out to be the better NFL player?

If you like Vaughn, go ahead and draft him. Hopefully he does well for you. But I fear he’ll turn out to be just another 23-year-old third-round back.

I want to draft guys at a discount, and if I have to draft Vaughn in Round 1, I won’t be getting him on the cheap — and I don’t know why anyone would want to pay up for an older third-round running back who doesn’t have 100% unobstructed path to playing time.

NFL Prospect Comp: Kenneth Dixon with more draft capital and a little more speed but much less production

More Dynasty Analysis For Freedman’s Top Rookies

  1. Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire
  2. Rams RB Cam Akers
  3. Colts RB Jonathan Taylor
  4. Broncos WR Jerry Jeudy
  5. Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb

Matthew Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs, part of The Action Network.

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