The Buccaneers had just the 24th-leading team in rushing yards last season and lost 2nd-leading rusher Peyton Barber over the offseason. Supplementing the team’s running back corps was a high priority heading into the draft as Tampa GM Jason Licht selected Ke’Shawn Vaughn with the team’s third selection in the draft. Vaughn played four college football seasons, two for Illinois and two for Vanderbilt, before heading into the NFL as a senior. With head coach Bruce Arians not sold on Ronald Jones, could Vaughn be a sleeper candidate at running back for fantasy football this season?
2020 Draft Eligible
Ke’Shawn Vaughn – A Thread
This was a player I knew very little about before watching the tape. However, this prospect did not disappoint!!! The 5’10 215lb 5th year Sr has had a more difficult path to stardom, but don’t get it twisted…this kid is a player! pic.twitter.com/fYlGsjnRHT
— Garret Price (@DynastyPrice) June 4, 2019
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Last season at Vanderbilt, Vaughn was very successful with over 1,000 rushing yards, although his 5.2 yards-per-carry didn’t quite meet his 7.9 yards-per-carry mark from the previous campaign. His 28 receptions were a career-high, and he proved that he has a full three-down skill set, which could translate to immediate success in the NFL. Vaughn compiled 24 total touchdowns in his two seasons at Vanderbilt. He had fallen out of favor at Illinois, becoming the team’s third-string running back before transferring to Vanderbilt. He’s a bit on the older side at 23 years old entering the NFL, but he has plenty of talent to offer his new team.
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The Bucs’ backfield is one of the toughest to project heading into the 2020 season. Ronald Jones is the incumbent third-year pro, but he was a non-factor in his rookie season, and while he led the team’s backfield in 2019, he only produced 724 rushing yards. Jones has had some issues with pass-protection in the past – an area Vaughn excels in – and he wasn’t hand-picked by the Bruce Arians regime the same way Vaughn was. I believe it’s going to be a real split between the two players, and I currently have the two down for the same number of touches. These rankings made Vaughn the RB25 in my rankings while Jones was my RB31 – Vaughn had slightly more passing work in my projections.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn has 2,208 career rushing yards after contact pic.twitter.com/yqwq3fGKN6
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) April 25, 2020
ADP: 112.3, RB43
Auction Value: $5
Depending on what league platform you use, Vaughn’s ADP might be a few rounds ahead of Ronald Jones’s at the moment. Either way, I think both running backs could offer some serious value as they are attached to what should be one of the most prolific offenses in football this season. I’ll be all in on Vaughn as long as he’s being drafted after guys like Jamaal Williams, Latavius Murray, Alexander Mattison, Tony Pollard, and J.K. Dobbins.
The Bucs are going to be a pass-first team this season after adding Tom Brady to an offensive core that features Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate. However, there should still be some value to pick out from their backfield. Bruce Arians has shown a willingness to go with the hot hand at running back, and while there’s a chance the team begins the season with Ronald Jones as the starter, I believe Vaughn’s status as a hand-picked running back by Arians gives him a leg up in the long run. Vaughn looks like he could be the better pass-protector and pass-catcher among the two players, something that is very important in this offense. I believe Vaughn’s baseline is somewhere in the 180 touch range with the upside for more, which at least makes him a solid RB3.
If Vaughn’s pass-catching ability and pass-protecting win him the starting job from the outset, there’s no telling how high his ceiling could be this season. I believe he could finish with more fantasy points than any non-Clyde Edwards-Helaire rookie running back. If Vaughn grabs 65% of the backfield work instead of closer to the 50% I have him down for, he could approach top-15 status at the running back position. I think his upside could be somewhere in the range of 1,000 rushing yards, 45 receptions for 400 yards, and ten combined touchdowns. That would put him in the field of 245 fantasy points – that would have made him a top-ten running back in 2019.
— Kevin Cole (@KevinColePFF) April 25, 2020
Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Offense
As I mentioned earlier, the Buccaneers look like one of the best offenses in football heading into this season. The team already ranked 3rd in the league in points per game last season and is due for some significant improvement after replacing Jameis Winston with Tom Brady. The offensive line also figures to be improved after the team drafted Tristan Wirfs, a franchise left tackle, in the first round. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are the best pair of wideouts Brady has ever thrown to, and the team also has the best trio of tight ends in football in Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate. The only thing that could keep this from being one of the best passing offenses in football this season is an improved defense, which may not require it to be involved in a lot of shootouts. That could have them due for an uptick from the 13th-most rushing plays in the NFL last season.
Strength of Schedule
The Buccaneers play in the NFC South, which presents some mixed opportunities for running back success in fantasy football. They do have to play the Saints twice who had the 6th-best defense against running backs in fantasy, but the Falcons (11th) and Panthers (32nd) could present some better opportunities. The Bucs play the AFC West this season, which will offer some bottom-half RB defenses in the Raiders (18th), Chargers (24th), and Chiefs (29th). The Broncos fared much better as the 11th-best defense against running backs. The NFC North is also on the docket for NFC South teams this year with none of the Vikings (12th), Bears (16th), Packers (25th), or Lions (27th) ranking inside the top-ten defenses in fantasy points allowed to running backs last year. Rounding out the Bucs’ schedule are the Rams (15th) and Giants (17th), two more middle-of-the-pack defenses against running backs last season. This schedule sets up nicely for some fantasy production out of the Tampa Bay backfield.
The presence of both Ronald Jones and Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the Tampa Bay backfield will likely depress the draft price for both players. While I think there’s a chance both guys could have some fantasy value this season, Vaughn is the one I’m more excited about as likely the better pass-protector and pass-catcher among the two. It will be worth watching in camp and the preseason to see which running back is garnering more first-team reps, but as the potential starter for one of the best offenses in football, Vaughn is one of my favorite late-round sleepers this season.
Vanderbilt RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn
➕TD every 16.5 touches
➕Production despite poor O-line
➕3.73 YAC per attempt
➕10% Target Rate
➖Lost starting job at Illinois
➖5.2 YPC (35th-%ile)
➖Older prospect (RS-Senior)
➖Good at many, great at none pic.twitter.com/W9Y73bkQzE
— Alex Johnson (@a_johnsonFF) March 18, 2020