Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians has been adamant in his belief this offseason that 2021 can serve as a breakout year for running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn.
Vaughn certainly has the talent and the résumé to emerge at some point as a pro-caliber running back. Tampa Bay's third-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft a year ago, the Vanderbilt product averaged 4.2 yards per carry and scored a receiving touchdown during his rookie season.
While he was at Vanderbilt, Vaughn was productive and extremely well-rounded. Across four seasons with the Commodores and Illinois, Vaughn averaged 5.8 yards per attempt while scoring 30 rushing touchdowns, and added 66 catches for 648 yards and three scores as a receiver as well. Vaughn was also an above-average pass protector, allowing just one sack on 229 pass-blocking reps during his college career.
As seen in Week 16 against Detroit last season when he put together 69 yards from scrimmage, there are flashes that suggest Vaughn can produce at the NFL level. However, it's hard to envision any sort of breakout for Vaughn in 2021 unless someone above him on the depth chart gets injured. Even though the odds are high for Vaughn to make Tampa Bay's 53-man roster, he's cemented into the RB No. 4 role behind proven veterans at this point.
Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette are unquestionably ahead of Vaughn when it comes to early-down work. Jones started 13 games a season ago and posted career-bests in yards (978), touchdowns (seven) and yards per attempt (5.1). Fournette, who signed with Tampa Bay days before the 2020 season began, filled in before and during the playoffs as Jones nursed injury, scoring seven total touchdowns over the Buccaneers' final seven games of the year.
When it comes to late and passing downs, Giovani Bernard is expected to take the reigns. Bernard caught 342 passes for 2867 yards and 11 touchdowns while making a living in pass protection as well during his eight seasons with the Bengals before Cincinnati released him this offseason. As a passing-down running back was one of Tampa Bay's biggest needs this offseason, his signing was obviously to take on that role.
Arians' expectations for Vaughn as a Buccaneer are high and rightfully so, but in a year where Tampa Bay aims to repeat as Super Bowl champions, it's tough to envision an inexperienced running back taking a hefty share of snaps from proven veterans playing in the same backfield as Tom Brady.
Perhaps in 2022, after Jones, Fournette, and Bernard are set to become free agents, Vaughn will find himself in a significant position within Tampa Bay's offense.