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Deuce Vaughn

Long odds of big impact

There was a story over the weekend where a Cowboys beat writer speculated that Deuce Vaughn could see an increased role in the offense. The former Kansas State back was a productive runner and receiver in college. But he's pretty small, and there haven't been many running backs his size to hit.

At the combine a year ago, Vaughn measured 5-foot-5 and just 179 pounds. The Cowboys selected him in the sixth round. It was a cool story, with his father working for the team's scouting department; he made the call to tell Vaughn he'd been drafted ("How'd you like to come to work with me this week?"). Pretty great.

Dallas let Tony Pollard leave in free agency; they brought in Royce Freeman and former starter Ezekiel Elliott to join Vaughn and Rico Dowdle. Clearly there's an opportunity for Vaughn to carve out a role. But not a lot of backs of his dimensions have been significant players.

Using the search tools at pro-football-reference, I looked for significant seasons this century by running backs who weighed under 180 pounds. One name came up: Warrick Dunn. That's the list.

I expanded it to under 190 pounds. That fared a little better. These aren't combine weights, but how teams listed them, so it's possible some of these guys were actually under 180 pounds. The Cowboys list Vaughn at 5-f0ot-6 and 176 pounds.

Table shows all the under 190-pound running backs since 2000 to put up top-50 seasons in PPR leagues. Maybe smaller, quicker players have better odds these days, since three guys made the list from last year (they're in bold). Two of them had top-25 seasons and were certainly relevant in fantasy leagues: James Cook and DeVon Achane.

2002Charlie Garner, Oak.96291941114
2011Darren Sproles, N.O.60386710105
2000Charlie Garner, S.F.114268647106
2001Charlie Garner, Oak.83972578311
2023James Cook, Buff.112244445611
2018Tarik Cohen, Chi.44471725811
2012Darren Sproles, N.O.24475667813
2018Phillip Lindsay, Den.1037352411013
2005Warrick Dunn, Atl.141629220413
2000Warrick Dunn, T.B.113344422914
2001Warrick Dunn, T.B.44768557616
2004Warrick Dunn, Atl.110629294916
2002Warrick Dunn, Atl.92750377919
2010Jahvid Best, Det.55558487620
2019Phillip Lindsay, Den.101135196720
2014Darren Sproles, Phil.32940387822
2013Darren Sproles, N.O.22071604423
2016Darren Sproles, Phil.43852427424
2003Warrick Dunn, Atl.67237336524
2009Darren Sproles, S.D.34345497825
2023DeVon Achane, Mia.800271971125
2006Warrick Dunn, Atl.114022170525
2003Charlie Garner, Oak.55348386426
2015Darren Sproles, Phil.31755388626
2019Tarik Cohen, Chi.21379456327
2017Tarik Cohen, Chi.37053353428
2007Warrick Dunn, Atl.72037238428
2008Warrick Dunn, T.B.78647330228
2010Darren Sproles, S.D.26759520229
2008Darren Sproles, S.D.33029342741
2011Jahvid Best, Det.39027287343
2022James Cook, Buff.50721180344
2023Jaleel McLaughlin, Den.41031160346

The history, particularly the recent history, isn't quite as bad as I'd thought. The beat writer specifically mentioned Vaughn contributing as a receiver, playing in the slot, and that would be more likely to be him than the other backs on Dallas' roster. This is going to be an offense better passing the ball than running it, most likely, and Vaughn was hugely productive in college: 116 catches for 1,280 yards and 9 touchdowns in three seasons. He also had two seasons with over 1,400 rushing yards.

Of the 33 guys on the table, most of them got there by their work as receivers. More than half (18) caught at least 45 passes in their successful seasons. Seven more, including Cook last year, had at least 35 receptions. So that's probably Vaughn's path to relevance.

On the other hand, Vaughn struggled mightily as a rookie. His 23 carries went for just 40 yards. He did catch all 7 passes thrown his way for 40 more, so there's at least some argument for them probably trying him some as a receiver.

But if I'm selecting a Dallas back late in a draft, it will probably be Zeke (I know some will say Dowdle; I think if they believed in him, they wouldn't have brought back Elliott). Seems more likely to have a, er, sizable workload. With Vaughn I'm going to need to see it before buying in.

--Andy Richardson

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