I have to admit: I didn't know anything about Chip Vaughn. I read up on Louis Delmas, on Patrick Chung, on William Moore and Rashad Johnson and even Derek Pegues—who wasn't even drafted. But Vaughn slipped right past me.
He didn't slip past Gregg Williams. I've found what I think is compelling evidence that Williams saw something in Vaughn that may have reminded him of the best football player he ever coached.
First of all: the Saints needed safety help. Everyone knew it, and that was part of the reason that so many projected Malcolm Jenkins to the Saints. But the Saints immediately announced that Jenkins was penciled in at the corner position—not at safety. So Jenkins wasn't the dynamic safety that everyone knew Williams coveted. But the Saints had already targeted one, even though they had to wait until the fourth round to pull the trigger.
When you haven't followed a player, and have to rely upon objective professionals to give you an analysis, you almost always seem to run into this problem: who to believe? So it is with Chip Vaughn.
NFLDraftScout.com had him rated the third-best safety prospect in the country, behind only Patrick Chung (love that Chung kid) and William Moore. According to them, Vaughn is an "aggressive defender that attacks in run support. Reliable open-field tackler. Heavy hitter that can separate the ballcarrier from the ball..." He's not as good, however, in pass coverage.
Sporting News, on the other hand, has him rated sixth. But not because he's poor in coverage: "Vaughn's failure to stand out in run support and his tendency to disappear from games are certainly big concerns. However, he consistently shows the athleticism and instincts to be effective in pass coverage, crucial for NFL safeties."
What the hell? Should we be doing scouting reports on the reporters, instead of the players?
ESPN comes at it from a different angle. They rate Vaughn's character, reporting that he's "A sociology and religion major. There have been no off-the-field incidents to our knowledge." What character rating does that give him? Average.
Okay, let's go for consensus here. NFL Draft Countdown reports "Terrific size and bulk...Superb tackler...Real tough and physical...Will deliver the big hit...Very active and aggressive...Good range...Does a fantastic job against the run...Smart and instinctive...Very productive." Okay, that tends to suggest that Sporting News wasn't paying attention. Scout.com says "Vaughn is a physically imposing defender who has a lot of upside. He has great size, speed and athleticism. He positions himself well and delivers jarring hits. He’s always around the ball and looks to create turnovers. He’s aggressive at the line of scrimmage against the run, but even though he’s quick, he struggles in coverage. He has to locate the ball quicker and improve his ball skills." That confirms it for me: whoever did the write-up for Sporting News doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. And that leaves us with this: Chip Vaughn was one of the best strong safeties in the draft, who is going to be a demon (no pun intended) in the box. But he's seemingly no better than Roman Harper in coverage.
Despite that: Sean Payton has said that Vaughn is penciled in as a free safety.
So how does Vaughn compare to other free safeties Gregg Williams has worked with? Well, at Tennessee he had All-Pro Marcus Robertson, and at Washington, of course, he had Sean Taylor. The first thing you notice in comparing them is that Vaughn is very close to Taylor: at 6-2 and 221 pounds, he is the same height and nine pounds lighter than Taylor's rookie measurements. With a 4.43 40 time, he's faster than Taylor's 4.51; and his 21 reps on the bench are ten better than Taylor's rather notorious 11. What's more, compare these two analyses:
NEGATIVES: Better facing the quarterback and slow to locate in man-to-man coverage. Lacks top hands for the interception and, as a result, defends more throws than he actually picks off.
Negatives: ...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.
The first of those quotes is from Sports Illustrated's 2004 assessment of Taylor; the second, from NFLDraftScout's recent assessment of Vaughn.
Plus, consider this: Vaughn played strong safety in college, where skill in pass defense wasn't as critical. Yet, Sean Payton announced almost immediately that he was penciled in as a free safety—Sean Taylor's position. That leads me to believe that Gregg Williams was the driving force behind this pick...and that he thinks he sees something there very similar to his former star. This is not to suggest that Vaughn is on the brink of becoming a superstar in the NFL; only that Williams may have found just the r ight person to fill the role of safety as it's envisioned in his system. If that's true, we could be in for exciting times.
If it's not...then I'm just not being objective.