The Dallas Cowboys entered the 2023 NFL Draft with a sizable hole at running back. The Cowboys addressed the position by selecting former Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn with the No. 212 overall pick. Vaughn is the son of long-time Cowboys scout Chris Vaughn, which led to a particularly heartwarming draft-weekend moment between father and son.
Taking a peek at Dallas’ depth chart indicates Vaughn possesses an opportunity to develop into more than a good story.
The Cowboys experienced some notable overturn at the position this offseason. The Cowboys released franchise legend Ezekiel Elliott from his contract in a cost-cutting move that saved them $10.9 million against the cap. They then franchise-tagged Tony Pollard, which is scheduled to pay him a fully-guaranteed $10.091 million. The Cowboys and Pollard have a mid-July deadline to agree on a multi-year extension.
Although he was the far more impressive ball-carrier of the two, Pollard was most effective last season when utilized in a tandem alongside Elliott. Pollard hasn’t recorded 250-plus touches in a single season to date. Pollard hasn’t been considered a high-volume, three-down workhorse. Elliott’s departure opened up a need for Dallas to place a new running mate alongside Pollard. Enter Vaughn into the picture.
The Cowboys didn’t address the position as early as most expected via the 2023 NFL Draft. I have it on decent account that former UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet would have been in consideration for the Cowboys at 58th overall had the Seattle Seahawks not drafted him six selections (No. 52) earlier. With Charbonnet no longer an option, Dallas waited until the sixth round to select Vaughn.
It shouldn’t take long for Vaughn to leapfrog the competing options on the depth chart. The Cowboys signed Ronald Jones II to a one-year contract worth $1.2 million. Jones fumbled opportunities in Tampa Bay and Kansas City. I have a difficult time envisioning Jones developing into more than what he’s been. Former undrafted free agent Malik Davis is also under contract. Not exactly a murderer’s row of options.
Vaughn strung together an impressive three-year career at Kansas State. Across his final two campaigns, Vaughn accumulated 2,966 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. A dual-threat playmaker, Vaughn added 846 receiving yards and seven touchdowns to his offensive totals in 2021-22.
Vaughn must overcome some historic size deficiencies. The 5-foot-5, 179-pound Vaughn has zero-percentile height and one-percentile weight for the position, per MockDraftable. Comparable success stories would include Dion Lewis and Giovani Bernard, both of whom defied the odds to enjoy impressive careers. Vaughn does have some exciting athletic traits after leaping an impressive 63rd-percentile 35.5-inch vertical at the NFL Scouting Combine.
At times, Vaughn utilizes that size to his advantage. Vaughn identifies small creases before getting vertical for positive yardage. Vaughn accelerates past defenders in the open field with plus-level change of direction transitions.
The Cowboys were searching for Pollard’s new backfield partner this offseason. Vaughn is an anomaly from a physical perspective, but his background indicates he’s used to proving doubters wrong. Deuce Vaughn has an opportunity to seize Dallas’ No. 2 running back role.
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