With running backs J.K. Dobbins and Cam Akers still on the board when the Buccaneers picked in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, it was somewhat of a surprise to see them go with a selection on the defensive side of the ball. But that’s not to say it wasn’t a good decision, as they selected Antoine Winfield Jr., a playmaking safety out of Minnesota.
And it wasn’t long before Tampa Bay would address the running back position, as it did so with its third-round pick. Jason Licht and his staff spent the No. 76 overall pick on Vanderbilt’s Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who stands at 5-foot-10 and weighs in at 210 pounds. Here, we have three things you need to know about the newest Buccaneer running back.
He was Tennessee’s 2014 Gatorade Player of the Year
Vaughn played his prep football at Pearl-Cohn Comprehensive High School in Nashville, Tennessee. He capped off his career in a major way, rushing for 2,646 yards and 45 touchdowns en route to being named the state’s 2014 Gatorade Player of the Year. His 11.5 yards per carry helped lead the Firebirds to an 11-3 record and an appearance in the Class 4A semifinals that year. He also earned the Tennessee Titans Mr. Football Class AA Back of the Year Award for his efforts.
And he wasn’t a one-hit wonder as a high schooler either, considering his monstrous senior season came after a junior year in which he was an all-state selection. Known as the “Red Mamba,” he ran for 6,031 yards and 86 touchdowns in his career. His highlights, as you’d expect, were straight-up impressive. Plus, he was a sprinter on the track and field team in high school. So, while scouts and draft analysts have knocked his speed and 4.51-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, it’s not like he’s a slow runner by any stretch.
According to his USA Today high school profile, Vaughn had a 3.34 GPA, was a member of his school’s leadership group and worked as a mentor for eighth-graders. So, in addition to getting an exciting prospect, it sounds like the Bucs are getting a pretty good dude.
His collegiate career was split between two different Division I schools
After his outstanding prep football career at Pearl-Cohn, Vaughn committed to play his collegiate ball at the University of Illinois. As a freshman in 2015, he led the team with 723 rushing yards and six touchdowns. He was somewhat phased out as a sophomore and eventually decided to transfer closer to home, joining Vanderbilt for his final two years of eligibility. He finished his two years at Illinois with 1,024 yards and nine scores.
After sitting out in 2017 due to NCAA transfer rules, Vaughn broke out in 2018. As a junior with the Commodores, he ran for 1,244 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 7.9 yards per carry. Those 1,244 rushing yards were the second-most in a single season by a Vandy running back. He also caught 13 passes for 170 yards and two scores, including a 75-yarder against Florida.
As a senior in 2019, Vaughn went over 1,000 yards rushing once again. He put up 1,028 yards and nine touchdowns in what was a tough 3-9 season for the ‘Dores. But where he stepped up was in the passing game, as he caught 28 passes for 270 yards and a touchdown.
In just two years, he left his mark on the program’s record book. Among Vanderbilt running backs, he finished fifth all-time in yards, third in rushing touchdowns and fourth in 100-yard rushing games. By going over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons he joined Ralph Webb and Zac Stacy as the only Commodore running backs to ever do so.
Plus, over the last two seasons, he had eight touchdowns of 60-plus yards, which was the most of any player in the FBS (h/t Greg Auman). This guy could be pretty dang fun to watch.
Ever heard of dad strength? Vaughn has it...
Vaughn’s final season at Vanderbilt didn’t feature much in the way of on-field wins. But he picked up a pretty big off-field win on Sept. 27 when his son was born. It was a wild 24 hours for the redshirt senior, as he was there for his son’s birth around 7 p.m. on a Friday night and stuck around at the hospital before showing up for Vanderbilt’s 11 a.m. game against Northern Illinois the next morning. His head coach, Derek Mason, said after the game—which was the Commodores’ first victory of the year—that he thought Vaughn had to be a little spent from everything he experienced the previous night. But you might not have noticed by watching him play.
In a 24-18 victory, Vaughn ran for 138 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, averaging 8.1 yards per carry. It was a significant 24 hours for him, which he acknowledged on Twitter after the game:
Became a dad and got a win in less than 24 hours .— Ke’Shawn Vaughn (@SneakVaughn) September 28, 2019
You have to chalk some of that performance up to dad strength, don’t you? There have been plenty of instances over the years of athletes coming back a bit stronger and more motivated after having a child. After a night that probably didn’t include much sleep, Vaughn stepped right up for Vandy and helped his team to a nice home victory.
Of course, some of that strength has been with him throughout his entire football career. He’s well-built, allowing him to break tackles and stay on his feet through contact. One of his strengths is running between the tackles, which should be put to good use by the Bucs. It should be interesting to see how they split carries between him and Ronald Jones II this fall.
It was one round later than many expected, but the Buccaneers did select a running back to pair with Jones after all. You can find Ke’Shawn Vaughn on Twitter at @SneakVaughn. Be sure to take some time to congratulate him and welcome him to Tampa Bay!