Prior to the 2009 NFL Draft, I put together a series of stories which compared players I thought the Colts may select. Former Wake Forest safety Chip Vaughn was one of those players and was arguably the best run stuffing safety out of the 2009 group. One will notice a lot of similarities in Vaughn’s aggressive style and hard hitting to Colts safeties Bob Sanders, Antoine Bethea, and Melvin Bullitt. The New Orleans Saints selected Vaughn in the 4th round.
Researching the injury that kept Vaughn out of the 2009 season, it appears as though he was placed on injured reserve for much the same reason a lot of young players are when teams want to save them for the future, but have not had the time to work them into their system prior to the coming season. The Colts did the same with safety David Caldwell this year, who seemingly did not have a critical injury and was seen at training camp practices, but his injuries were bad enough to put him on injured reserve, get him healthy, and give him a chance to get ready for the 2011 season.
In August of 2009, Vaughn underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee (same kind of injury Anthony Gonzalez suffered in Week 1 of 2009). Depending on severity, the player can return to the field the same season. It is possible the tear was more significant than initially reported but also possible that Vaughn would have to miss significant enough time that the Saints thought it better to store him away for the 2010 season. When he returned, the Saints chose to stick with veteran safeties, as the youngest safety on their roster has four years of NFL experience.
Vaughn is 6-foot 2-inches tall and weighs 221 pounds. He ran a 4.42 40-yard dash, put up a 37-inch vertical jump, and 21 bench reps in the 2009 NFL Combine. At Wake Forest he played free safety on one of the most respected defenses in the NCAA, with 1st round selection Aaron Curry playing in front of him at linebacker. He was known as one of the hardest hitting safeties in college football, played in a zone defensive scheme, and used his speed to close on ball carriers against the run. As a senior, Vaughn racked up 110 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 10 pass breakups, 2 quarterback pressures, and 6 interceptions.
Although Vaughn was known more for his play against the run, he was not necessarily a liability in the passing game (as his stats suggest). His biggest weakness is man-coverage but generally the safeties for the Colts play over-the-top of potential receivers in a deep zone and rarely draw man-coverage assignments. In this way, Vaughn should be able to play in a system that is relatively comfortable for him.
It is important to temper expectations for any player that is coming off of major knee surgery. Assuming that the injury was more serious than originally reported, it is possible that Vaughn has been unable to get as much work physically as he would like to be at 100-percent game shape. It is also possible that his speed could suffer to a degree after his injury. If not, there is reason to believe that he could be a solid find for the Colts and may surprise moving forward.
For the immediate future, do not expect to see Vaughn spending much time on the defensive side of the football. He will have an opportunity to contribute immediately on special teams and will have to use his performance in kick coverage to earn an opportunity late in the year or in training camp next year to fight for defensive snaps.
2009 Scouting Reports (NFLDraftScout.com, TFYDraft.com)
Strengths: Looks the part. Rare size and upper-body development for the position. Aggressive defender that attacks in run support. Reliable open-field tackler. Heavy hitter that can separate the ballcarrier from the ball, resulting in forced fumbles and passes broken up. Appears to have at least adequate straight-line speed, good balance and a low backpedal. Good leaping ability to battle for the ball. Has developed a reputation for game-changing plays over his career. Came to Wake Forest as a wide receiver and is still an ascending player.
Large, forceful safety who displays good awareness in centerfield. Effectively diagnoses the action, plays disciplined football, and stays with assignments. Works well with cornerbacks, and displays solid ball skills as well as coverage abilities between the numbers. Forceful up the field and squares into tackles, bringing ball handlers down at the point of attack.
Weaknesses: Better in run support than against the pass. Questionable instincts. A step slow in recognizing the action and has a hitch in his turn. May lack the agility to mirror routes. Better facing the quarterback. Loses track of the ball and has only marginal hand-eye coordination for the interception. Surrounded by a great deal of talent at Wake Forest.
Lacks great speed to the sidelines and usually a half-step late arriving on the scene, trying to make plays out to the flanks. Shows minimal quickness and explosion to his game. Has off-the-field issues that may raise red flags.
Senior Bowl Practice Recap (TFYDraft.com)
Monday Practice Notes: Vaughn struggled in one-on-one pass cover drills but looked real good in centerfield. He has terrific sideline-to-sideline range and covers a lot of area on the field. Vaughn also made several nice plays helping out cornerbacks on the deep throw.
Tuesday Practice Notes: The more you see Vaughn the more you like him. He’s not flashy or explosive just very steady in centerfield and does a great job constantly putting himself in a position to make plays or help out the cornerbacks.
Wednesday Practice Notes: Vaughn has shown steady improvement all week. During drills he did a great job battling the quicker Mike Thomas to defend the pass.
Thursday Practice Notes: No notes.
Analysis: When Vaughn was used as a traditional safety he performed well. When asked to play man coverage he struggled. Overall it was a good week for the Wake Forest safety who likely moved into the third round.