(Editor's note: This story originally published on April 12. The Cowboys drafted Deuce Vaughn in Round 6 of the NFL draft on Saturday.)
FRISCO, Texas -- As the Dallas Cowboys' assistant director of college scouting, Chris Vaughn can tell you about hundreds of players across the country as he prepares for the NFL draft. Vaughn has personally graded more than 350.
But for the one player he knows the best, he hasn't written a report on and won't grade.
Will McClay, the Cowboys vice president of player personnel, and Mitch LaPoint, the director of college scouting, made the decision to have Vaughn sit that one out.
"I appreciate them doing that," Chris said. "Not that I think that would be an issue, but we just took that part of the scenario out."
And when the front office -- including owner and general manager Jerry Jones, scouts and coaches -- discusses Vaughn's son in relation to the rest of the running backs in the draft in the next week or so, Chris won't be in the room.
The only other comparable situation McClay has had was a few years ago when the son of then-offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, Matt, was a quarterback at Idaho. In a room that needs to be brutally honest to get the full picture of a player, McClay thought the area scout could be reticent about saying less-than-flattering things about Matt with Scott in the room.
"It's an interesting dynamic," McClay said. "For those guys who work under him or are his job mates, they don't want to talk bad about his kid."
CHRIS KNOWS WHAT will be said about Deuce in the Cowboys' draft room even if he isn't in there to hear it.
Chris has been the Cowboys' southeast area scout since 2017. Prior to that, he had 18 years of college coaching experience at Texas, Memphis, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tulsa. He was defensive backs coach at Texas from 2014 to 2015.
But separating being a dad from being a scout is difficult.
"I know how the draft works and I understand the process, so it will probably mimic a lot of the recruiting process [out of high school] for Deuce," Chris said. "The elephant in the room is his size, which he has always been able to overcome with his ability."
Deuce is 5-foot-5, 179 pounds.
"Because of that, me and him talked, and I told him, 'Listen, man, you were super productive in college, but the draft works differently. You probably won't be drafted where your production has been, and that's OK,'" Chris said.
Of the 27 running backs invited to the NFL scouting combine, Deuce was the shortest. In fact, he is the shortest player at any position measured at the combine since official data began being tracked in 2003, according to NFL Research. He and East Carolina's Keaton Mitchell were the lightest at 179 pounds. Smaller backs have found success in the NFL, like Darren Sproles (another K-State product and mentor to Deuce), Dave Meggett, Joe Washington and Lionel James.
"Teams are going to have to have a vision for him, especially early in his career," Chris said. "[They will] see him as a returner, as a change-of-pace guy, use him in the pass game. I think the teams that will have a vision for him and see these different scenarios will have a better draft grade on him."
THE FIRST TIME Chris' job and Deuce's dream intersected was when Deuce starred at Cedar Ridge High School in Round Rock, Texas. Chris, then a college assistant coach, wanted Deuce's merits to stand on their own, so he didn't push his coaching friends to recruit his son.
Deuce was named Class 6A All-State, the highest level of Texas high school football. He was the most valuable player in his district. But he was not highly recruited. Arkansas, where he spent a lot of his formative years while Chris coached there, wanted him, but the staff saw him as a gadget player. South Florida, with Chris' former boss, Charlie Strong as coach, wanted him. But it was K-State that made the right pitch.
"They treated him as a true tailback from Day 1 and said, 'We can do some things different in the passing game because of his abilities but not shy away from inside or downhill runs,'" Chris said. "They were true to that."
He was named the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year after rushing for 642 yards with 434 receiving yards and nine total touchdowns in 2020. As a sophomore, he ran for 1,404 yards and led the Wildcats with 49 catches and was named a first-team All-American. In 2022, he led the nation with 1,936 all-purpose yards and was eighth in rushing with 1,558 yards while scoring 12 touchdowns.
The second time Chris' job and Deuce's dream intersected has been going on since Deuce announced Jan. 2 he was passing up his final year of eligibility.
"He allowed me to kind of go into the combine stress-free," Deuce said. "Not necessarily telling me what to say -- he wanted me to be myself -- but just some things he knew from his experiences. And he coached me up and gave me the reins to do what I do to present myself as the person I am and the football player I am."
Chris told his son to be prepared for the long medical process in Indianapolis, where doctors and team medical staff poke and prod. Deuce knew what kinds of questions, designed to fluster a prospect, would be asked. He wanted to know the answer about how Deuce's size would not be an issue.
"He wanted to hear my answers first, then after that we'd not workshop it, but be like, 'How about this?'" Deuce said. "Then he heard my answer and was like, 'OK, you're good.'"
But a funny thing happened. His size was not the predominant question.
"It's a lot different than high school to college. They said, 'If we had problems with size, we wouldn't even have these conversations with you if we didn't think you could play at this level,' which is reassuring," Deuce said. "But it's more, 'How do you expect to contribute on the football team when you come to the organization?' Of course, you want to be confident, not cocky. Confident in your ability to produce but not cocky to the point you feel like the job is yours."
K-State held its pro day March 31. Deuce said he was pleased with his performance, though he was bothered by a sinus infection for a few days before the workout. In addition to the running back work, he also caught punts to show teams he has special teams versatility.
That's another intersection between the father's job and the son's dream.
"You understand that as one of the guys on the [game day] roster, you have to have special teams if you're not going to be the lead guy," Deuce said. "That's one thing I didn't think about as a freshman or sophomore in college, how much goes into that with the rosters being smaller on game day. If you're going to be a third-down back, you have to return punts and kicks, which is OK with me."
THE VAUGHNS TALK every day, and not just about football. Chris' days will grow longer as the draft nears and the Cowboys settle into their position meetings. Deuce's days now are focused on getting back into football shape after getting ready for the combine and pro day testing once the Wildcats' season ended. The past few weeks have been filled with Zoom calls from a number of teams. As of March 31, he had no visits to a facility scheduled.
There's one question Deuce has not asked his father: Which round will he go in?
"That's one thing I've stayed away from," Deuce said. "For me, I don't want to get caught up in what round, where I'm going. I'm going to let draft day be relaxing because you never know. For me, it's not when I get drafted. It's where. Fit is one of the biggest things for me, a team that has a vision for myself. It's been pretty eye-opening for the teams that do and some of the teams that don't. But I will keep those to myself."
Vaughn is largely expected to be a Day 3 pick. ESPN NFL draft analyst Jordan Reid has him going in Round 6 of his seven-round mock draft.
McClay said eight to 10 years ago, a player of Vaughn's size might not get as long of a look in the NFL.
"It's a space game now," McClay said. "And you use players to create space and find mismatches."
Deuce showed he could produce big numbers in big-time college football.
"We're always trying to qualify players, and so at each milestone or achievement, that's kind of qualified him still with the quote-unquote negative of height or whatever," McClay said. "The one question you ask is, 'How long can he do it?' because it's a big man's game. He's a great running back. He's got all these skills. Now, how long can he do it against bigger men? That's the question. But he's continued to prove through high school to college to now that he's able to do it."
ON DRAFT WEEKEND, Chris will be in Frisco, Texas, at The Star, for the draft. Deuce will be in Austin with his mother, Marquette, and one of his sisters waiting for the call from a team. He might have a small draft party.
Yes, Marquette is proud of her son. She missed just one game in Deuce's college career -- at West Virginia because her alarm didn't go off. Every other game, home or away, she was there.
Deuce calls her his "rock," because Chris' coaching career kept him away for long spells.
"Don't let somebody tell her I can't block," Deuce said. "She'll pull up the film and everything. She will not back down."
Chris said: "There is not a better player in the country to have ever played football, to my wife. We were having a conversation, I won't mention the player's name, but we're watching TV and this player makes a really good play. She looks at me, 'So, is he better than Deuce?'
"I said, 'Well,' which was a mistake, but then I tried to be a scout, go into the game of, 'This guy's a little bigger.' And she looks at me and I can tell this is not going to end well, so I recanted. I said, 'No, he's not better than Deuce.' As long as she's not around I can be objective."
Father and son have wondered what it would be like if the Cowboys draft him and the intersections they experienced in high school and college join the same path.
Deuce has played two games at AT&T Stadium -- 2021 opener against Stanford, 2022 Big 12 Championship against TCU (both K-State wins) -- and he has grown into a Cowboys fan since his dad joined the organization.
"It'd almost be like a proud moment to wear the star in there," Deuce said. "It would be unreal. I'd definitely relish that opportunity."