Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech
(percentile rank among all RBs at the Combine since 1999, courtesy of mockdraftable.com):
40-yard dash: 4.58 (40th)
Vertical: 37.5" (83rd)
Broad: 10'1 (70th)
3-cone: 6.97 (60th)
20-yard short shuttle: 4.28 (41st)
Arkansas’ “Mr. Football” for 2011 chose Louisiana Tech over scholarship offers from Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss and Arkansas State for a better chance to play right away. Dixon then led the nation as a 2012 freshman with 27 rushing TDs (plus 1 more receiving). Although that would remain a career high, it started a scoring trend for this dynamic college back.
After a relative down year with 5 total TDs (4 rushing) in 2013, Dixon compiled 28 and 26 total scores, respectively, over his final 2 seasons at Louisiana Tech, including 13 receiving TDs over that stretch. He temporarily stood as the all-time FBS TD leader before Navy QB Keenan Reynolds passed him.Arkansas’ “Mr. Football” for 2011 chose Louisiana Tech over scholarship offers from Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss and Arkansas State for a better chance to play right away. Dixon then led the nation as a 2012 freshman with 27 rushing TDs (plus 1 more receiving). Although that would remain a career high, it started a scoring trend for this dynamic college back.
Dixon garnered 1st-team all-conference honors as a true freshman (WAC) and senior (C-USA) and finished 2nd team his other 2 seasons. He set the school career rushing record as a junior and even finished his stint tied for 17th in career receptions. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry career and 11.1 yards per reception and finished 2nd on the team in TD receptions in each of his final 2 years.
Courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com
Games watched: Western Kentucky, Arkansas State, Oklahoma (2014), Illinois (2014), Marshall (2014), Louisiana-Lafayette (2014)
I think I was guilty of carrying bias into my film review of Dixon.
I read the Dion Lewis comparisons from NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks and Pro Football Focus’ Steve Palazzolo, and I could see it pretty easily. Dixon looks speedy and shows terrific shiftiness to juke tacklers in small areas -- and he already brings at least as much receiving skill as Lewis displayed through half of a season with New England last year.
But I also think that comparison sells Dixon’s potential short.
We think of Lewis as a small, quick receiving back now. But the book on him entering the league back in 2011 read: little guy who runs well between the tackles and needs to develop his passing-game skills.
Dixon already stands at least 2 inches taller and about 20 pounds heavier than Lewis. He’ll arrive in the NFL as arguably 1 of the league’s best receiving RBs. Just check out this TD catch against Arkansas State from December that would make any wideout proud ...
Not only does Dixon display the body control to adjust to the sideline throw and away from 2 defenders, but he even drags both feet to complete what would have been a TD at any level.
What’s less obvious in his college tape is power at the line of scrimmage and the drive to push piles in short yardage. But we can blame much of that on Tech’s play design. Dixon most often runs plays that attack the edges or sweep all the way outside, taking advantage of his speed around the edge. Plenty of other inside runs find open seams through the 1st level of defenders.
I initially came away liking Dixon’s ability and desire to finish runs downfield by bouncing off and falling forward through tackle attempts by 2nd- and 3rd-level defenders …
… but I failed to see the kind of tackle-dragging examples that surprised me with C.J. Prosise. Frankly, I think I might have also let my early affinity for Prosise and Devontae Booker -- both of whom I studied previously -- get in the way of fairly evaluating Dixon.
At Smola’s urging, though, I re-watched some Dixon and found a bit more of what I thought had been missing -- such as this drive into the end zone vs. Western Kentucky …
And there are other times Dixon simply doesn’t need to rely on power because he can just make defenders look silly with juke moves ...
All that said, speed still jumps off the Dixon tape, which made his mere 4.58-second Combine 40 a bit surprising. Draftnik Tony Pauline had reported heading in that Dixon was consistently timing in the high 4.4 range during his training. The slower time in Indy makes me wonder whether he looked faster against a lower level of competition in college -- or whether Dixon simply plays faster than his timed speed and some of the players who posted better 40 times.
It’s also important to note that a pedestrian 40 time didn’t make it a bad Combine performance overall. Dixon produced the position’s 6th-highest SPARQ score, a measure of athleticism. His 37.5-inch vertical placed him in the 83rd percentile among all Combine RBs since 1999, with his 10’1 broad jump good for the 70th percentile.
Finally, like seemingly most of this RB class, Dixon also must work on ball security. PFF charged Dixon with 4 fumbles on fewer than 200 carries in 2015, while CBS counted 14 for his career. That can keep you off the field with the wrong coach.
Dixon did find lots of space to run in the 6 games I watched, more space than he’ll usually find in the NFL. We’ll see how he adapts to much bigger, faster guys hitting him earlier, and that ultimately figures to decide his success as a lead back -- if he gets the chance to play that role.
But the NFL continues to trend away from feature backs. Only Adrian Peterson reached 300 carries last year, and just 2 RBs reached that plateau in 2014. Those 2 seasons combined saw a mere 13 total player seasons of 250+ rushing attempts. Over 16 games, 250 rushes comes out to 15.6 per week.
So it’s probably less important to find true “feature-back” material than to find a guy who should get on the field quickly with skills to build on.
That’s Dixon, and his receiving talents -- at the least -- will earn him early playing time. PFF credited him with 12 catches for 185 yards and 2 TDs among 15 targets when lined up as a slot receiver last season. That accounted for more than a third of his receptions in 2015, demonstrating ability that transcends your usual receiving RB’s portfolio.
The right backfield could give Dixon exciting overall upside, though I’d say the same about Utah’s Devontae Booker (and will when it’s his turn to get profiled here). Landing spot will probably determine which player I’m taking first in a dynasty rookie draft, but I expect to like both and C.J. Prosise more than most folks, based on the rookie rankings I’ve seen so far.
Rather than pointing at any specific player among this trio as a must-target, I believe the collection should make you strongly consider going against the conventional wisdom of spending your early-to-mid Round 1 rookie pick on a wideout this time.