Deuce Vaughn tops Dallas Cowboys draft class’ in-game athleticism, 3rd among drafted RBs

More than a week later and the NFL world is still buzzing about the heart-warming story of Dallas Cowboys drafting running back Deuce Vaughn, son of a team scout Chris Vaughn.

The video of dad making the call to his son and asking him if didn’t mind coming to work with him next week as the Cowboys sixth-round pick remains an all-time tear jerker.

I’ve heard from a number of people and people who were watching the draft that weren’t truly football people,” Cowboys vice president of player personnel Will McClay said. “There’s a lot of people have been in touch with and it was one of the greatest moments not only in sports, but in life that I’ve been around because there was just true passion for the people, Chris Vaughn and then his son.”

Add in Vaughn’s 5-foot-5, 179-pound stature and it’s an underdog story of a person overcoming insurmountable odds to realize their lifelong dream that people in all walks of life can relate to and appreciate.

But be clear, Vaughn’s presence on the Cowboys is not about the team wanting create a feel-good story. The Cowboys pick was about what he brings to the table as a football, not sentimentality.

The Cowboys will tell you that.

“All you got to do is put on the tape and watch the kid play to let you know that he belonged and he belongs in the NFL,” McClay said. “He deserved to get picked and we had the opportunity to pick the value that was good for us and it was the best football player on the board.”

His analytics say the same, according to Cory Yates, a Fort Worth Western Hills graduate and co-founder of Reel Analytics, a sports tech and data company that analyzes video to measure athleticism so coaches and scouts can evaluate talent more accurately.

Per Yates, the intersection of film and analytics is the white space Reel Analytics pioneered by unlocking new athleticism data to derive its groundbreaking In-Game Athleticism (IGA) Score.

Reel Analytics, which used by a number of colleges in recruiting, including TCU, measures space position players like running backs, receivers, tight ends, linebackers and defensive backs. It give them a proprietary IGA Score derived from position-specific athleticism metrics extracted by video tracking technology. Each metric is weighted, contextualized by percentile rankings, and scored.

And not only was Vaughn’s score of 96.7 tops among all Cowboys drafted players, it was third among running backs, behind only Bijan Robinson (98.3) and Tank Bigsby (97.2), who were drafted in the first and third rounds by the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars, respectively.

He was four spots ahead of Jahmyr Gibbs (92.1), who picked in the first round by the Detroit Lions.

“Deuce Vaughn is unique in two ways,” Yates said. “First, he has elite change of direction. His average change of direction time is under 0.3 seconds which is top 1% of 3,900 running backs in our database and the best in the 2023 draft class. Second, Vaughn has high-end breakaway speed. We clocked him at a max speed of nearly 22 mph in week 9 vs Oklahoma State.”

His play at Kansas State the past three years, where the 5-5 dynamo gave Big 12 defenses fits, proves as much.

Vaughn was named first team All-American in each of the last two years. He left Kansas State with the school records for receptions (116) and receiving yards (1,280) by a running back. He ranked second in career rushing yards (3,604), rushing attempts (651), 100-yard rushing games (21), and consecutive 100-yard rushing games (8), third in all-purpose yards (5,029), rushing yards per game (97.4) and touchdowns scored (43).

Vaughn compares favorably to former diminutive NFL star Darren Sproles and no gimmick player. He is a special player in space and is part of the future of the NFL.

“You can run your offense with him,” McClay said. “He ran between the tackles in high school and ran between the tackles in college. he was very productive in that. He can make plays in space. He can do a number of different things for you. There’s a lot of specially pieces in the NFL outside your typical the old school football. The game is changing and evolving and you have to change and evolve with it. And this is a player that’s had success at a very high level.

One of the things I bring up was the number one pick in the draft ( 5-10 quarterback Bryce Young) is a guy with phenomenal spatial awareness and feel. But he’s an undersized quarterback that would have never gotten picked five years ago. So you talk about the evolution of the game. Well, this guy got picked first overall and you know in sizes is limitation but not heart and ability all those things. And the same goes for Deuce.”

NFL Hall of Fame running back and TCU legend LaDainian Tomlinson is an unabashed fan of the pick by the Cowboys.

“I think Deuce can be a matchup nightmare out of the backfield,” Tomlinson said on NFL Total Access. “A lot of people are comparing him to Darren Sproles, who was one of the best ever out of the backfield running routes, creating mismatches. I see Deuce Vaughn in the same light. You can put Deuce Vaughn in the slot … There’s no way you’re going to stop him one-on-one running option routes. You can also bring him out of the backfield, put him on the perimeter …

“I’m telling you right now, the Cowboys will find a place and find a way to utilize Deuce Vaughn’s skills.”

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