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Could third-round pick Ke’Shawn Vaughn be running back the Bucs need?

“You can’t have too many good backs. You can’t rely on just one back," Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht says.
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TAMPA — Ke’Shawn Vaughn had to wait until the third round Friday night to have his name called in the NFL draft. Despite back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons at Vanderbilt playing against SEC competition, his name wasn’t mentioned often among the draft’s top backs.

But after the Bucs made him the 76th overall pick, Vaughn was excited about the opportunity suddenly presented to him.

Tampa Bay drafted Vaughn not only for his ability to run the ball but his strength as a receiver. As the Bucs build around the franchise-altering offseason acquisition of quarterback Tom Brady, they wanted to give the six-time Super Bowl winner a receiving weapon out of the backfield. In Brady’s 19 seasons as a starter with the Patriots, his running backs averaged 74 receptions.

Vaughn said he can’t wait to be a part of that.

“I feel like that’s the best opportunity I can ask for as far as being drafted in this class and being in this situation where you’ve got Tom Brady as your quarterback, who loves hitting the checkdowns,” Vaughn said. “Those could be big-yardage plays that we can capitalize on at any moment. Tom Brady is the GOAT. Can’t do nothing but be happy and get ready to go win some games for him.”

Despite expressing faith in incumbent starter Ronald Jones, the Bucs wanted to add a running back to their stable. After taking a pass on running backs such as Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins and Florida State’s Cam Akers during the second round, instead selecting Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield Jr., the Bucs took the 5-foot-10, 218-pound Vaughn in the third.

Related: The pandemic has changed the world, but not the Bucs. They keep drafting safeties.

“I think he’s capable of playing on all three downs,” general manager Jason Licht said. “You can’t have too many good backs. You can’t rely on just one back. And if you have a guy who can do multiple things, it makes him even more valuable to your team.”

Licht said he was surprised to see Vaughn still available when the team’s pick came up, and with no picks in Saturday’s fourth round, it was the right place to take a running back.

“We felt like it was very important,” Licht said. “By no stretch of the imagination am I going to say we reached at all because he was sitting right there, right where we were picking and matched up right with what we needed.”

In his two seasons at Vandy, Vaughn showed significant growth as a receiver with 28 receptions for an average of 9.6 yards per catch. He averaged 13.1 yards a catch as a junior.

“That’s something I had to get natural with,” he said. “I could always catch, but I wasn’t naturally a receiver. Back in high school, I ran the ball all the time, and converting to college, you’ve got to become more involved in the pass game. I’ve been getting comfortable with my hands. ... (I do) any extra work to get better as a pass catcher.”

As a senior for the Commodores, Vaughn rushed for 1,028 yards (ranked seventh in SEC) and nine touchdowns, including nine 100-yard games. He averaged 103.7 yards a game as a junior, which ranked second in the conference.

The Nashville native started his college career at Illinois and played two seasons before transferring back home to Vanderbilt in 2017; he had to sit out that year due to NCAA transfer rules. In his two seasons with the Commodores he finished with 2,272 yards (fifth all-time for the program) and 21 touchdowns (third all-time).

“I believe I have home-run ability as a running back, and I also have that same ability as a pass catcher out of the backfield,” said Vaughn, who turns 23 next month. “Kind of knowing Tom Brady and his offense, he’s been in the league a long time, he can put me in the best situation, and also my teammates.”

Related: Like father, like son: Antoine Winfield Jr. follows his Pops to the NFL

Vaughn said he also had experience splitting out as a receiver and pass blocking, tools that will help him become a three-down back.

“I’m very comfortable there,” he said. “And now that I know I have Tom Brady as my quarterback, I know I’ve got to be more serious about getting that done and taking that more seriously as far as making sure I know who I’ve got on certain plays, making sure my technique is good all the time. Because that man is throwing the ball, we need him at all times.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.

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