Every year, the transfer portal gets overpopulated with college football players looking for a way out of the school that they originally committed to, and every player has his reasons for making this decision and transferring schools. It could be playing time or an off-the-field issue, or it could be a personal reason back home. Whatever the case may be, the transfer portal has become a popular place for fans everywhere to watch like a hawk. You always want to make sure that you’re school isn’t losing a ton of players to the transfer portal, but you also want to know about a player transferring to your favorite school.
Two years ago, there was a running back that entered the transfer portal and nobody saw his breakout season coming. That running back is Ke’Shawn Vaughn from Vanderbilt. Last season, he had a breakout year for the Commodores with 157 carries for 1244 yards and 12 touchdowns. On top of that, he had 13 receptions for 170 yards and two touchdowns.
Before averaging 7.9 yards per carry last season, he had transferred from Illinois. In 2015, he committed to the Fighting Illini after a successful career at Pearl Cohn High School in Nashville, Tennessee. During his high school career, he earned 2014 Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year and was a two-time All-State honoree. It wasn’t easy for him to have that type of success, though. During his freshman year of high school, he broke his ankle and almost quit football. However, Vaughn started to run track and field, which helped him get ready for more football. Fortunately, he was able to make the most of his opportunities; during his senior season, he had over 2600 rushing yards and 45 touchdowns.
Those opportunities seemed like they were going to carry over to his college career once he committed to Illinois. There was a good feeling around Champaign that they had something special with the true freshman. During his freshman season for Illinois, he had 157 carries for 723 yards and six touchdowns. Unfortunately, his sophomore season didn’t go as planned, and Vaughn found himself splitting carries with Kendrick Foster and Reggie Corbin. Once again, he was dealt a difficult decision. He had to weigh his options, and he entered the transfer portal, where he ultimately transferred to Vanderbilt
Like most college athletes that transfer, Vaughn dealt with having to sit out the next season. He didn’t play in 2017, and nobody thought twice about him going to Vanderbilt. After the breakout season for the Commodores last season, he now has everyone’s attention. Let’s jump into some film and see why Ke’Shawn Vaughn is one of the best running backs in the SEC.
Running Through Tackles – Never Stop Your Feet
Name the first running back that comes to your head when you think about trucking defensive players. Is it Marshawn Lynch? Yep, mine too. Running backs don’t want to get tackled, that’s obvious. There’s a variety of ways for them to avoid tacklers, but the most obvious way is to run through them. Ke’Shawn Vaughn can do just that.
Against Baylor, Vaughn was a one-man wrecking crew. He demolished that entire Baylor defense, and it was the best game of his career. The play above is a perfect example of what he can provide in a loaded box and in the open field. It’s not consistent through every stage of the game where he’s running through every tackle, but this is a great example of him consistently moving his feet and attacking the second level of the defense. It’s a zone run that is reliant upon the offensive line being effective with their reach blocks. Even though some players don’t get blocked, Vaughn makes them pay for trying to tackle him.
Okay, maybe Baylor just can’t tackle. Vaughn’s monster game was no fluke, though. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he averaged 5.28 yards per carry after contact and forced 40 missed tackles on the season.
Catching Passes in the Screen Game
Now that the NFL is such a pass-heavy game, people are always quick to jump and ask whether a running back can become a three-down back. They want their running back to carry the football on first and second down and then catch passes on third. That’s fair, but it’s not the end of the world if a running back can’t catch passes but can still provide on first and second down. Fortunately, Ke’Shawn Vaughn can contribute on the early downs and has also shown his ability to catch passes.
The play above is a prime example of a screen pass with a fake jet motion and fake reverse being attached before the throw. This manipulates the defense to bite to the fake running plays but also buys the offensive line time to get in space and create openings for Vaughn after he catches the screen. In his 34-game career in college, he has caught only 38 passes, but he has made his opportunities impactful.
Vision and Jump Cut
Not every running back is going to be the total package. Some will just be a guy, but others will show flashes that make them stand out in the crowd. Ke’Shawn Vaughn is exactly that type of guy. He has runs where he barrels right into a pile and it goes nowhere. Other times, he has runs where he’s running through tacklers or showing off great vision and advancing downfield because of a jump cut and short area quickness or explosiveness.
The play above is a perfect example of Vaughn putting his vision on display. He follows up a great read with a jump cut through the line of scrimmage. He finds a crease and explodes toward the end zone. On his way down the field, he shows the long speed to outrun would-be tacklers. These are the types of runs that he’ll need to continue to make if he wants to play on Sunday afternoons.
Believe it or not, I found out about Ke’Shawn Vaughn by playing college fantasy football last year. He was available on waivers and he stood out in a big way. Then I found some tape and he impressed me even more.
Ke'Shawn Vaughn is out to prove that he is one of the best after a stellar year. pic.twitter.com/Je3iUzV8Fn— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 11, 2019
In his first season with Vanderbilt, he’s already second all-time for rushing yards in a single season in the school’s history. The leader is Ralph Webb from 2016 with 1384 yards. Without question, Vaughn will look to beat that record this season. With an increase in his workload, that could very well happen.
It won’t be surprising to see Vaughn tote the rock more frequently this year. He was limited to under 175 touches last year, and with his explosiveness, any competent play-caller would give him the football more. There are times that he does look like “just a guy”, but more often than not, he shows the explosiveness that’s needed to survive between the tackles.
Right now, he checks off more boxes on my checklist by the end of each game, from his mental processing and burst to his ability to finish runs and gain yards after contact. The explosive back will look to build upon a great first year at Vanderbilt. He’s had a chance to rejuvenate his college career. Now entering his final stint on a college field, I don’t think he’ll let it go to waste. If you haven’t done so, you need to watch Ke’Sahwn Vaughn and learn why the man nicknamed “Ke” holds the key to his final destination in the 2020 NFL Draft.