Deuce Vaughn should not be forgotten in the Cowboys running back room

May 11, 2024

What are your expectations for Deuce Vaughn in 2024?

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

Spoiler alert: there is still some consternation surrounding the Cowboys’ running back room. Neglecting the position throughout the entire 2024 NFL Draft, and following it up with the Ezekiel Elliott reunion, has done little to inspire faith in the team’s ability to field a solid running game in 2024.

A majority of the conversation around the Cowboys running backs has centered on Elliott and Rico Dowdle, who put up 361 rushing yards and 144 receiving yards with four total touchdowns as the backup to Tony Pollard. This is for good reason, as those two are the most likely to see the bulk of the carries in 2024.

That said, there is one player who has gone unmentioned thus far, and it’s a player that was on everyone’s radar just a year ago at this time. Deuce Vaughn made national headlines for his feel-good story, being drafted to the team where his dad works as the assistant director of college scouting.

However, Vaughn was more than just a good story. In three seasons with Kansas State, he tallied 3,604 rushing yards, 1,280 receiving yards, and 43 total touchdowns. He eclipsed 1,400 rushing yards each of his final two years with the Wildcats and never fell below 375 receiving yards in a season. All of that was in spite of his 5’6” height.

Vaughn continued to flash in the preseason. Going up against second and third stringers, Vaughn tallied up 64 rushing yards on 13 carries with two touchdowns, showing his signature explosiveness. Vaughn looked so good that Dallas didn’t even play him in their third and final preseason game, as he had already cemented his spot on the roster.

The coaching staff also made a conscience effort to get Vaughn involved once the regular season began – he had 25 touches in the first five games – but the rookie struggled to do much with his role. That led to Vaughn being inactive for much of the remainder of the year, which cooled the hype down considerably.

However, it should be noted that, of those first five games where Vaughn saw a consistent workload, only one of them – against the 49ers, when everything went wrong – featured all five starters along the offensive line. The Cowboys’ run game as a whole had struggled during that stretch, so it’s not like Vaughn was the only one struggling at the time.

Still, much of the sentiment from fans and media hasn’t focused at all on Vaughn. That may be a mistake, as Vaughn’s electric preseason performances a year ago still happened, and the running back will only be more comfortable in the offense this year. The fact that the Cowboys didn’t draft a running back, even choosing Marist Liufau over two different running back prospects, likely suggests the team still has confidence in their small running back.

Will McClay even went out of his way to mention Vaughn in a recent interview on 105.3 The Fan following the draft. When asked about the running back and, more specifically, undrafted rookie Nathaniel Peat, McClay had this to say:

…What we added to the running back room was that element of another explosive player with him. And with adding Zeke and [Royce] Freeman, plus returning the guys we have, I think we have a well-rounded group. It’s no longer a single, number one running back; it’s running back by committee.

Excited about the potential of those guys in that group and then adding another speed element, explosive element to our offense. And then, you know, not forgetting Deuce. We drafted him last year and he should have more opportunities this year, so we’re adding pieces to that and the coaches will find a way to use all those pieces.

The idea that Vaughn might make a big jump from his rookie year to this season isn’t entirely unfounded, either. In looking at the drafts of the past five years (2018-2022), there were 25 running backs taken after the 200th overall pick. Of those 25 players, eight of them saw a significant uptick in usage and production in their second year in the NFL. Some notable names include Isiah Pacheco, Myles Gaskin, Boston Scott, and Khalil Herbert.

Obviously, this doesn’t guarantee that Vaughn is about to have a breakout sophomore season, and it’s no surprise that the hit rate on running backs taken outside of the top 200 is low. However, Vaughn isn’t facing any Herculean odds when trying to make a jump from last year to this year.

With the way the Cowboys have reinvented their offensive line this offseason, and the committee approach that they’re clearly taking with the running back room, don’t be surprised if Vaughn finds himself consistently busy on Sundays. And if that’s the case, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see him take off yet again.