Can Deuce Vaughn be a productive member of the Cowboys RB room?

With the departure of Tony Pollard to Tennessee, the Cowboys have a rather significant hole at the top of their RB depth chart. The free agent market proved hotter than anticipated, pricing Dallas out early, and leading to a reunion with 2023’s RB2, Rico Dowdle.

It’s clear the Cowboys need to add one, if not two more RB options to their stable in 2024, unless, of course, they think one of their down-roster players has the potential to step up into a bigger role. Perhaps that someone is Deuce Vaughn.

Less than one year ago, Vaughn was the talk of town. The exciting scat back from Kansas State is the son of scout Chris Vaughn. The emotional phone call between father and son on draft day became must-see-TV, not just in Dallas, but nationwide.

Selected 212 overall, Vaughn was the 14th RB drafted in 2023. While ultra productive in college, his prospects as a pro were somewhat limited given his unavoidable size limitations. At 5-foot-6, 176-pounds, he would be one of the smallest players in the NFL. And the physical demands of the RB position had the potential to expose him in more ways than one.

As his rookie season showed, those concerns were well warranted. After an ineffective start to the season, Vaughn found himself buried on the depth chart and inactive in nine of the last 12 regular season games. His 1.74 yards per rushing attempt were difficult to excuse for even his staunchest supporters.

While the sample size was extremely low, Vaughn’s -1.39 RYOE (rushing yards over expected) were among the worst in the league and far below both Dowdle (-0.80) and Pollard (+.11). His pass protection grade from PFF was a cellar dwelling 35.7 with his Week 4 performance against New England standing out as particularly poor.

Overall, Vaughn didn’t get many opportunities behind Pollard and Dowdle in 2023, and the few that he did get didn’t exactly make a case for more. Many believe his size limitations may have finally caught up with him and the pro game is too big for him.

The number of inactive designations spoke volumes in 2023. Vaughn was ineffective as a rusher and a liability in pass protection. He was effective as a pass catcher, catching all seven targets and showed plenty of wiggle in space. The main issue was getting him the ball in space.

Even with perfect technique and maximum level tenacity, Vaughn will be somewhat capped by what he can do as a pass protector. When just one poorly executed blitz pickup could result in an injury to the franchise QB, pass protection becomes a fairly significant job requirement.

If the Cowboys want Vaughn to play a role in the RB rotation in 2024, they’ll have to create something for him. He’s not a plug and play RB who can be used interchangeably with others. He has play in certain packages with specific responsibilities, much like how the similarly small KaVontae Turpin is used as a WR.

Vaughn’s presence on the roster shouldn’t factor into anything the Cowboys do this offseason. They should fill the roster as if he’s not on it and think of him as a bonus piece.

Dallas also has a responsibility to put Vaughn in position to succeed rather than set him up to fail. Like many other players who came before him, Vaughn is a skilled player with specific strengths and weaknesses.

It’s very unlikely Vaughn will factor in as a top-two RB on the Cowboys in 2024. Depending how Dallas populates the ranks, Vaughn’s immediate ceiling appears to be RB3 with some room to grow as a possible special teams return man and offensive gadget player in personnel groups designed to find mismatches.

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Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire