Draft Daily: Kenneth Dixon, the Small School Stud

Would the Louisiana Tech running back be a good pick in the third round?

Kenneth Dixon. (USA Today Sports)

Kenneth Dixon. (USA Today Sports)

Between now and the draft, we’ll zero in on one prospect a day with an Eagles slant. We’ve already covered a dozen players, including Vernon Hargreaves, Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, Ronnie Stanley, Myles Jack and Dak Prescott. If you have a player you think should be covered, shoot us an email ([email protected]).

THE BACK STORY

Even when you go back to his high school days, production has always been a hallmark of Kenneth Dixon’s career. As a senior in 2011, Dixon ran for a state single-season record of 3,153 yards and 39 touchdowns. He was named “Mr. Football” in Arkansas and lead Strong High School to a state championship.

In college, it was no different. The Louisiana Tech running back ran for a school record 4,480 yards and 72 touchdowns, finishing second in NCAA history in career touchdowns scored. He also tied the NCAA record for games played with a touchdown (38), while his 72 rushing touchdowns is tied for fourth in NCAA history with Ricky Williams.

Overlooked coming out of high school, Dixon is now in the spotlight as he’s widely considered to be one of the draft’s best running backs.

“I was taught hard work in my household. My mother and my father worked hard. They showed me how to work. The dream of coming here has been with me all the way since I was in the third grade,” Dixon said at the NFL Combine. “Going to a small school, nobody thought that I could make it this far. Going to Louisiana Tech, nobody thought that I could do it.”

Now, it’s not a matter of if Dixon is good enough (ESPN’s Scouts Inc. ranks him as the third-best running back), but where he’ll be drafted. Between Darren Sproles’ uncertain future in Philadelphia after 2016 and Ryan Mathews’ injury history, the Eagles would be wise to add a quality, three-down running back.

The big question is: Will they draft Ezekiel Elliott at No. 8 overall, or will they wait until the second or third day?

THE MEASURABLES

Virtually every scouting report you’ll read or hear about Dixon is that he’s quicker than he is fast, and his performance at the NFL Combine showed why. Although his top-end speed is nothing special, he finished third among running backs in the 3-cone drill, fourth in the 60-yard shuttle and seventh in the 20-yard shuttle. He also finished fourth in the vertical jump and eighth in the broad jump.

According to Mock Draftable, Shonn Greene and Stevan Ridley are pretty good comparisons in terms of measurables.

THE NO-22

One of the first things you’ll notice when watching Dixon is how he tries to punish defenders for attempting to tackle him. He finishes off his runs well and is a physical back who is tough to get down on initial contact.

Dixon ran for 15 yards against Rice on this play, in which he threw a defender off of him.

He also broke a few tackles on this 14-yard touchdown run against FIU.

NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein touched on this theme in his evaluation of Dixon:

Hungry runner who almost never gives in to the defender. … Despite being keyed on, still creates yardage for himself. Determined and competitive. Accelerates through initial contact and squeezes carries for everything he can. Averaged almost twice as many yards per carry after first contact (3.3) than before first contact (1.7). Greedy eater when endzone in his sights with 39 rushing touchdowns since 2014. … Violent finisher for his size and enjoys thumping corners and safeties.

Because of his quickness, Dixon has proven to be elusive and shifty as well. Dixon showed off a stiff arm and a juke on this 12-yard touchdown run against UAB.

He also made a guy miss with a spin move on his 72-yard run against UTEP.

Zierlein touched on this as well:

Light on his feet using outstanding jump ­cut and lateral quickness to sidestep danger in the backfield and create a positive play. Elusiveness on second level often leaves tacklers grasping at air. Able to string moves together and hit the explosive play. … Quick recognition of defensive flow and adjusts running lanes accordingly. Decisive runner with plus burst and ability to charge it up to his top speed instantly. Has very good feel for running lanes and tacklers and is able to navigate both without much wasted movement.

As much as Dixon has shown on the ground, a big reason he projects to be a Day 2 pick is because he’s also a threat as a receiver. Fran Duffy had a good breakdown on the Eagles’ website of Dixon’s 23-yard touchdown catch against FIU.

“He’s one of the best receiving backs in this draft,” Duffy said. “Watch the ball skills here from a running back out of the back field on a wheel route. Look at him adjust to the ball mid-flight, contort his body, go up and climb the ladder. This is just an outstanding catch. … Dixon could step in right away and be a third-down player, but I think he’s a feature back as well and can carry the load.”

Dixon can also make guys miss after the catch, as he did on this 13-yard reception against Western Kentucky.

ESPN’s Scouts Inc. rates Dixon as “above average” in the passing game:

Catches balls with his hands away from his frame without breaking stride. Drops are rare. Adequate route runner with enough quickness to separate. Not an elite homerun threat but productive after the catch.

One concern some people have about Dixon is his durability because of his physicality. He also isn’t very fast, and some scouts worry about his 13 fumbles in the last three seasons (his career fumble percentage is 1.6%, per ESPN).

THE BOTTOM LINE

It’s anyone’s guess as to who will be available for the Eagles in the third round, but I think Dixon would be a smart pick. Because the position has become so devalued, it’s become more common in recent years to find Pro Bowl running backs in the middle rounds, which is why Dixon may fall to them and why I think you can find low-cost, high-quality alternatives to Elliott.

In the 2013 draft alone, four running backs taken after the first round have been named to the Pro Bowl. The 2014 draft has also produced a Pro Bowler who was selected in the sixth round.

I have no idea if Dixon will be that kind of player, but I think he’ll be a reliable, three-down back who will alleviate concerns about the future of the position for the Eagles.