The Deuce Vaughn hype train is officially at full speed. After being unclear whether the sixth-round pick was even going to make the Dallas Cowboys roster, he's now made a real argument to be the team's RB2 behind Tony Pollard with an incredible preseason.
But impressing in training camp and the preseason is very different from actually producing in live NFL games. How much playing time will Vaughn really get? How effective will he be against starting defenses? How well can he hold up to the long 17-game season?
These questions all need to be answered to project his stats as a rookie, and I've done just that.
Deuce Vaughn Projections
- 104 carries
- 552 rushing yards
- 5,3 yards per carry
- 2 rushing touchdowns
- 16 receptions
- 136 receiving yards
- 1 receiving touchdowns
Let's start with some of the high-level assumptions going into these projections:
I'm accounting for Tony Pollard missing 1.5 games of action due to injuries. That's not to say he completely misses a full one, but that he's at least forced to miss enough drives here and there that it adds up to a full game. Remember, it's not that long ago we were worrying about how Pollard would hold up to an expanded workload, and he's in for more volume than ever this season.
I'm accounting for Vaughn missing 1 game worth of action to injuries. Not because I think he's going to be more durable than Pollard, but because with significantly less volume he'll also pick up much less wear and tear.
I'm accounting for Dallas having a top-12 offense in the NFL. This means that efficiency should be fairly high everywhere, and also that we could get some extra rushing volume from regularly playing with leads late in games.
So from there, the next step is projecting the volume Vaughn will be able to see.
I like him to emerge as the clear RB2 as the season goes on, but I don't think it's all that clear-cut between Vaughn and Rico Dowdle to start the year.
The Cowboys running backs combined for 462 carries in 2022, 405 in 2021 and 341 in 2020. On a per-game basis, that's 27.2, 25.3 and 21.3. Considering I don't expect the offense to be nearly as bad as it was with Andy Dalton at the helm in 2020, I'm projecting we land somewhere from 23-25 per game again (accounting for being more pass-heavy than ever). So that makes about 408 carries available over 17 games.
Even top running backs rarely see more than around 60% of their team’s rush attempts. Last year, only six (Josh Jacobs, Derrick Henry, Joe Mixon, Calvin Cook, Jonathan Taylor and Dameon Pierce) eclipsed 60%. With reduced depth behind him, however, I do think Pollard can hit that 60% mark when healthy. So that puts him at about 223 carries, leaving 185 up for grabs. Even if Vaughn misses a full game and minimally edges out Dowdle for 60% of those carries, he'd hit 104.
It's a little less straightforward to project receiving volume, but we know Dallas values blocking out of the backfield on passing downs, and they brought Pollard on very slowly as a receiver, so I don't suspect Vaughn plays an especially big role there. With a lot less precision than my rushing calculations, I'm giving him 1 reception per game (the same Pollard had as a rookie).
This is where I think Vaughn can really shine. With Pollard seeing a significant increase in between-the-tackles rush attempts, Vaughn will be freed up to get the ball in space more often.
He'll also be the guy taking over the ball in any game that gets out of hand, allowing us to get Pollard some rest when winning a blowout.
Those are both prime opportunities to inflate efficiency numbers.
With that in mind, I'm projecting Pollard to average 5.3 yards per carry — a mark that Pollard hit as a rookie and that sits slightly above Pollard's career average of 5.1.
If Vaughn sees more volume than I expect, then I would also project his efficiency to drop, but the kind of limited role he'll be playing is perfect for racking up a nice big per-carry average.
And as a receiver, I expect most of his receptions to come on screens and other short-yardage throws. A single home run could totally balloon his average when catching only 16 passes, but this also accounts for the potential that a couple of his screens get blown up in the backfield.
As far as touchdowns, Vaughn will probably not get any real goal-line work and also see limited action in the red zone unless Pollard is hurt or tired, so don't expect Vaughn to see paydirt often.
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