That a running back that ran for almost 3,000 yards in two seasons in the Big 12 could be overlooked sounds unlikely. The fact that Kansas State Wildcats RB Deuce Vaughn stands at 5’6”, unofficial until we get NFL combine measurements, makes it easier to understand.
As a sophomore, Vaughn broke out with 235 carries for 1,404 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also had 49 receptions for 468 yards and four scores. As a true junior he was used more often but didn’t have the same production. Last year, Vaughn carried the ball 293 times for 1,558 and nine touchdowns. On top of that, the diminutive back had 42 receptions for 378 yards and three touchdowns.
That level of production at a Power 5 school would often lead to first-round discussion. Instead, The Draft Network has a sixth-round valuation on him and ESPN has him as their 193rd-ranked player.
The Mock Draft Database has Vaughn settling between picks 120 and 140.
That doesn’t stop Vaughn from aspiring to be like many of the other successful smaller backs in the league. Besides noting the comparisons to Darren Sproles, the K-State star discussed watching Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara and Austin Ekeler as backs he looks to emulate:
Perfectly, he named McCaffrey, Kamara and Ekler as players he watches. Later talked about Darren Sproles comp pic.twitter.com/An1REAEngj— Jared Mueller (@JaredKMueller) March 4, 2023
For the Cleveland Browns and other NFL teams, betting on a diminutive back is tough. It is rare that a player of Vaughn’s size is able to have the kind of impact that Sproles did. Ekeler at 5’8” and Devin Singletary at 5’7” are the league’s shortest starting running backs.
The Browns could use a dynamite player out of the backfield to take the pressure off of Nick Chubb and create mismatch nightmares for teams. Vaughn’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield while running precise routes makes him a versatile piece that could step in right away.
Besides being able to take a pounding running the ball, his size creates concerns in pass protection. Can teams trust that he will be able to take on a blitzing linebacker or safety and keep their franchise quarterback safe?
Vaughn understands the concerns about his size but his production in both phases of the offense cannot be denied. Will NFL teams, especially as they lean more and more toward the passing game, take a risk on production over size or will they overlook the shorter player in favor of less productive, bigger backs?
We will wait to find out in this year’s NFL draft.