Coming off a rather disappointing 8-9 season, the New England Patriots have plenty of potential for improvement. They already addressed some areas of need so far this offseason, but will now look to add long-term stability and additional playmaking ability through the NFL Draft. With 11 selections in hand, Bill Belichick and company are in a good position to do just that.
How they will ultimately use those picks remains to be seen. However, there are several players who would fit what they are looking for both at positions of need and at other spots all over the roster.
In our Patriots Draft Targets series, we will be taking a close look at some prospects we believe might be falling into that “fit” category. Today, let’s assess a projected Day 3 running back.
Name: Deuce Vaughn
Position: Receiving/Change-of-pace back
School: Kansas State
Opening day age: 21
Size: 5’5”, 179 lbs, 67” wing span, 27 3/4” arm length, 9 1/2” hand size
Workout numbers: 4.56s 40-yard dash, 4.22s short shuttle, 7.10s 3-cone drill, 35 1/2” vertical jump, 116” broad jump, 17 bench press reps, 4.3 Relative Athletic Score
Coming from a football family but playing multiple sports growing up, Vaughn had a highly productive career at Cedar Ridge High School in Round Rock, Texas. He eventually made the jump to the college level as a three-star recruit, and received offers from several schools before deciding to commit to Kansas State. He ended up spending three seasons in Manhattan, and proved himself a productive all-purpose back that ended up being named an All-American in all three of his seasons.
All in all, Vaughn finished his career with the Wildcats with 37 in-game appearances and a combined 767 touches: he carried the ball 651 times for 3,604 yards and 34 touchdowns, and also added 116 receptions for 1,280 yards and nine scores. He gained 1,000-plus scrimmage yards in all three of his collegiate campaigns, and in 2022 led the entire FBS with 1,936 yards. He elected to forgo his senior season to turn pro.
Expected round: 5th-6th
Strengths: Vaughn knows how to make the most of his size as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield. He has the patience to let his blocks develop and essentially hide behind the bigger linemen in front of him before committing to an opening to attack downfield. None of that would matter without him also having the skillset to capitalize, though. He has the agility and vision to punish defenders for over-pursuing, and has shown an ability to evade or step out of tackle attempts.
He also maximizes his catch radius, timing his jumps well when targeted outside his natural frame. Vaughn has also shown that he can take care of the football. Despite a hefty workload at Kansas State, he fumbled at a rate of just under 0.3 percent: only twice did he put the ball on the ground on his combined 767 carries or receptions. He also was a team leader in college, and voted a captain during his 2022 junior campaign.
Not saying he'll have the same career, but Deuce Vaughn reminds me so much of James White as a receiver— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) April 10, 2023
How he seems to effortlessly maximize his catch radius, makes defenders miss in space, and the alignment versatility are all classic Sweet Feet
They're also both DAWGS pic.twitter.com/56C6ulS1gP
Weaknesses: You cannot talk about Deuce Vaughn without talking about his size. His height (5’5”) and arm length (27 3/4”) fall into the 0-percentile, according to MockDraftable, while his weight (179 lbs) is in the 1-percentile among running backs. He is tiny, and will need to seriously work around these natural shortcomings to find success at the next level. His lack of size and bulk makes for an uncertain projection.
Targeting him in the passing game leaves little room for error, but the bigger issue might be his pass protection. Effort has certainly not been an issue in college, but he simply is not built to regularly hold off NFL-caliber linebackers coming in from the second level; if his initial contact does not slow the defender down he will likely not recover. For a guy his size, Vaughn’s testing results also do not pop: he posted solid but not outstanding speed and agility numbers in the pre-draft process.
What would be his role in 2023? The Patriots like to give their running backs some lead-up time as rookies before trusting them with bigger roles from Year 2 on. From that perspective, Vaughn might serve primarily as a depth option in either a change-of-pace or receiving role in 2023. If such a scenario materializes, he would likely back up the likes of Pierre Strong Jr., Ty Montgomery, and James Robinson, and possibly see only limited playing time in his first NFL season.
What is his growth potential? While Pierre Strong Jr. and James Robinson remain under contract beyond 2023, Ty Montgomery is headed for unrestricted free agency next spring to create a possible opening in the receiving back department. Ideally, Vaughn would be ready to take over at that point and carve out a role as a third-down option at running back. As such, he would be a candidate to bring some longer-term stability to a group that has faced questions since James White announced his retirement in the summer of 2022.
Does he have positional versatility? Kansas State opted to use Vaughn in a variety of ways in order to create favorable matchups for him. Whether it was a classic halfback alignment, crossing the formation on jet sweeps or similar misdirection plays, or moving into the slot, he did get several looks. The same would likely also happen at the NFL level, even though his stature will likely limit the situations he can be used in. Additionally, he offers some experience as a kick returner: in his 2020 freshman campaign, he returned seven kickoffs for a combined 145 yards.
What adding him would mean for the depth chart: Vaughn projects as a Day 3 pick, and as such might not be a lock to make the roster. Instead, he would compete for playing time and/or a spot on the team against the fellow receiving back types currently under contract: Pierre Strong Jr., Ty Montgomery, James Robinson, and J.J. Taylor.
Why the Patriots make sense as a landing spot: Vaughn’s size is a definitive question mark, but New England has shown a willingness to invest in players even if they fail to meet certain thresholds. The main questions are whether they can play, and if they can fill a role on the team. Vaughn has the potential to do just that.
Patriots contact: N/A
Verdict: While he was used in a variety of ways at Kansas State and was the school’s leader in carries all three of his college seasons, Vaughn does not have the athletic profile to become a featured back at the next level. New England would not bring him in to be one, however, and instead use him according to his strengths. And those look quite familiar: he has some James White and Dion Lewis to his game. There is obviously no guarantee he will ever come close to developing into a player of that caliber, but he might be worth a late-round shot nonetheless.
Would Vaughn be a good fit for the Patriots? Where do you think he will be drafted? Please head down to the comment section to discuss!