The Dallas Cowboys' beatdown of the New England Patriots in Week 4 wasn't entirely problem-free. A few key players exited the game with injuries on Sunday, including backup running back Rico Dowdle, who was forced to leave with a hip issue.
Cowboys News: Rico Dowdle Injury Update Impacts Deuce Vaughn
Dowdle discussed his status after the win with reporters. While he seems optimistic he's not dealing with a serious ailment, he admitted, "I’ll probably be out a couple days, maybe a couple weeks. We’ll see the severity of it.”
Considering Dowdle could be dealing with a multi-week absence, that puts third-stringer Deuce Vaughn in prime position to make his case as RB2.
Vaughn was a dart-throw pick by Dallas in the sixth round of the 2023 draft. The Arkansas native was electric in college, recording 34 touchdowns on the ground in three years at Kansas State and back-to-back seasons of 1,400-plus rushing yards to end his Wildcats tenure. He flashed some serious dual-threat potential as well, posting 1,2800 receiving yards and another 9 touchdowns as a pass-catcher.
Despite this production, though, Vaughn's build held him back from being a top pick. At just 5-foot-6 and 176 pounds, there were serious doubts about the K-State standout being able to make an impact at the next level against NFL defenses.
However, Vaughn's preseason performance certainly turned some heads. He turned just 13 attempts into 64 yards, averaging a whopping 6.5 yards per carry. The two-time All-American also found the end zone twice, including a highlight-reel run against the Seattle Seahawks where he not only bounced off of contact, but then used pinpoint footwork to avoid another would-be tackler.
While Vaughn made the roster over others, it's been Dowdle who's served as the primary backup behind Tony Pollard. He's seen some nice usage as a change-of-pace RB for this offense, recording 20 carries over the first four weeks, which he's turned into a solid 80 yards on the ground. He's also gotten some work as a receiver, hauling in all five of his targets for another 50 yards.
Playing behind both Pollard and Dowdle has, unsurprisingly, led to a very quiet start to Vaughn's rookie campaign. He's managed to turn just 17 carries into 33 yards, and he didn't even record an attempt in Week 3 as the team was playing from behind, showing he's still got a ways to go to earn this coaching staff's trust.
Dowdle's injury may change things in a hurry for Vaughn. Now instead of getting the leftovers as the third-string option, Vaughn could step into the RB2 role and immediately absorb the extra work Dowdle (5.7 attempts per game over first three weeks) would behind in his absence.
This gives Vaughn an opportunity not only to make an impression, but possibly oust Dowdle from the RB2 role if he proves more effective. After all, injury troubles have limited Dowdle ever since he entered the league in 2020, including a hip fractucre that cost the RB his entire 2021 campaign. Him going down again doesn't exactly reinforce the idea that he's capable of being a reliable backup.
As evidenced by Dowdle's early returns and Pollard's numbers last year before surpassing Ezekiel Elliott as the top back, there's plenty of room for the RB2 to succeed in the Cowboys' offense. They get the benefit of rotating in for a few snaps after the starter has helped wear down the opposing defense, giving them a more-vulnerable matchup. They're also playing on much fresher legs than the RB1, making it easier for them to rack up big gains.
Yes, Vaughn's preseason success hasn't immediately translated over to the start of the regular season, but now he's had four weeks to get his feet underneath him. His college days made it obvious he's a legit playmaker when he has the ball in his hands, and we could see him finally break out if Dowdle misses time.
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