Ke'Shawn Vaughn's Bowl Performance Showed He's NFL Ready

Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It's just one game. Even Vanderbilt running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn said himself that one game won't impact his ultimate decision. But it is still a game, and it was a game that will be remembered for a long, long time -- likely something that will be remembered more than the final score.

Vanderbilt running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn, a redshirt junior, put on the performance of his life in the Texas Bowl against Baylor. Vaughn rushed for 243 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries, which included three runs of 66 yards or longer.

“Ke’Shawn will get the information from the NFL and respond to that information accordingly,” Vaughn's head coach Derek Mason said. “The reality is that he’s always been a good back, and I don’t think that’s changed. He’s an elite back. I think he’s capable when the time’s right of maybe being a first-round back, but there’s a lot of distance between now and then, in my opinion. But I've always said he's special."

Vaughn won the award for SEC Newcomer of the Year this year after transferring from Illinois. In 2018, he averaged an SEC-best 7.9 yards-per-carry average, and he did that by showing big league speed when hitting open space. Vaughn rushed for 1,244 yards on the season, 243 of which came against Baylor in the bowl game. Vaughn's performance in that game was so impressive that Baylor head coach Matt Rhule made it a priority to go up to Vaughn himself after the game to tell him he's never seen a performance like the one Vaughn put on -- Rhule's name has been swirled around as a potential NFL head coach.

Vaughn's eval, as Benjamin Solak would say, starts here: the kid can scoot. The 5-foot-10, 215-pound Vaughn is projected to run in the 4.4's in the 40-yard dash.

I know Big 12 teams aren't known for their defense, but Vaughn truly looked like he was in another league with those players in the Texas Bowl. Much of Vaughn's big runs involved just him getting to a corner or finding open space, but getting there and then blasting off at straight line speeds that defenders just couldn't catch is absolutely something that is noteworthy.

The best way I can explain Vaughn's game is that I wish every game he played in was commentated by Gus Johnson.

Vaughn is a home run hitter. He can take any play to the house at any time, and those kinds of players will always be valued and get a shot in the NFL due to the emphasis on "explosive plays" -- the definition of such vary from team-to-team, but those are generally runs plays of over 12 yards and passing plays of over 16 yards. He likely won't be a full-time back in the NFL, but in a league that loves to switch it up and getting mismatch opportunities wherever they can, he will certainly have value.

“I don’t know how I’m going to (announce my decision). Once I do come up with a decision, I’ll let everybody know,” said Vaughn.

Undecided, but if momentum means anything in this draft process, Vaughn has about as much as you could ever ask for with a stellar final performance, and a game style that will only look even better after athletic testing at the Combine. Vaughn rushed for over 100 yards in four of his last five games in 2018, averaging nearly 10 yards per carry in the process.

The reason you suggest draft eligible players go back to school is so they can improve on something. For Vaughn, he has the tape, he has the workload, as of late, and most importantly he has his health at a position that makes it tough to keep that.

There is a lot that goes into the decision for an athlete to go pro, but if Vaughn ultimately decides to, his performance in the Texas Bowl will be pointed to as evidence to draft him as one of the top speedsters in the class.