There isn't a lot of differentiation at the top of rookie running back rankings for 2016. Ezekiel Elliott is the runaway No. 1, with Derrick Henry more often than not coming in as No. 2 on most big boards. After that, it's a mixed bag of Devontae Booker, C.J. Prosise, Jonathan Williams, Alex Collins and so on. But one name to keep an eye on is Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon. For a hot minute, Dixon was the all-time touchdown scorer in FBS history, until Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds took the crown in his final game. Dixon did it all for the Bulldogs in his four years with the team, racking up over 1,500 total yards in each of the last two seasons, and scoring a combined 54 touchdowns. So does all of this collegiate production (from Conference USA, granted), seem to indicate Dixon could be a fantasy star in the making? I went to the tape to find out.
» Exceptional feet to set up moves and maintain balance
» Natural pass catcher with great body control
» Deceptive quickness/acceleration
» Shows some power in compact frame
Watching Dixon move is a treat, as he possesses remarkably quick feet that he can use to juke defenders, accelerate through cuts, or keep his balance after contact. He's constantly able to reset his feet and reload them for cut after cut after cut in the open field, frequently leaving defenders grasping for air. Check out the GIFs in Rich Hribar's excellent dynasty profile on Dixon for some visual evidence. Suffice to say, this kid can move.
Dixon is an accomplished pass catcher out of the backfield and out of the slot as well. He has natural hands, and an innate ability to contort and adjust his body like a wide receiver. Watch how he controls his body to catch this pass in the end zone, beating two defenders in the process. Because of his size (5-foot-10) and pass-catching ability, many are pegging Dixon to be a change-of-pace, third-down option. However, Dixon bulked up to 222 pounds at his pro day with the intent of proving to teams he can be a three-down back. I believe, Kenneth. I believe.
Lastly, while Dixon doesn't have game-breaking long speed (4.58 40-yard dash at the combine), he has deceptive quickness and acceleration, which is aided by how adeptly he can reset his feet in tight quarters. Often times, defenders thought they had an angle on Dixon, only for him to accelerate through a cut and leave them in the dust. This explosion is evident in his high marks in the vertical (37.5 inches) and broad jumps (121 inches) from the combine. This is another element to his game that makes him so dangerous in space and allowed him to rack up so many yards and touchdowns with the Bulldogs.
» Lacks home-run speed, second gear
» Didn't fare well against big schools/talent
» Ball security
» Several injuries in college on already small frame
As I addressed above, Dixon's lack of long speed will certainly push him down some draft boards. He was ran down in Conference USA at times, which could become a problem given the speed in the NFL. A big knock on Dixon again comes from his conference. There are some who would have you believe he bullied small schools en route to setting all of those records, as his numbers dropped significantly when he played teams in a power five conference. However, per Mike Clay from Pro Football Focus Dixon averaged a prospect-low 1.2 yards before contact per attempt and prospect-high 3.6 YAC/att as well. This would indicate that he wasn't getting much help from his offensive line and often had to create opportunities on his own. I went back and rewatched some of those games, and poor Dixon was getting swarmed in the backfield all too often when the Bulldogs battled a much bigger program.
Two other areas Dixon will need to improve are his ball security (13 fumbles the last three seasons) and pass protection. Few things put rookies in a coach's dog house like putting the ball on the turf or missing a block and putting the quarterback on his back. Fortunately, these are areas where Dixon could easily improve in an NFL offseason program, so I'm not overly worried. He's also missed time with injuries twice in the last three years, and his hard-nosed running style could lead to frequent trips to the trainer's room in the NFL.
Ideal NFL fantasy fits
Rumors have swirled about the Raiders wanting Ezekiel Elliott, but if they miss out on him in the first round they could pick up another complete back in Dixon in the second or third round. Worst case, Dixon would serve as the lightning to Latavius Murray's thunder, but in the best case he could take over the backfield. Likewise, Washington seems committed to Matt Jones as a featured back, but Dixon could offer the team the best of both Jones and Chris Thompson in one package. Frank Gore is getting even longer in the tooth, and the Colts need a three-down back. Dixon could be downright dangerous in an Andrew Luck-led attack. The Bears kicked the tires on C.J. Anderson this offseason, and seem to be looking for more running back bodies. Dixon could immediately slide in and take over Matt Forte's role in the passing game, as Jeremy Langford left a lot to be desired there last year. Finally, the Dolphins also remain in the market for another back, and a 1-2 punch of Dixon and Jay Ajayi sounds pretty darn enticing (and frightening for opposing defenders).
Early fantasy draft projection
Dixon does have his limitations, but the upside of his skill set is excellent. Assuming he doesn't land in a dreaded committee situation, Dixon is a name that will likely be called at the end of plenty of fantasy drafts come August. As for dynasty rookie drafts, I'd be comfortable looking at Dixon anywhere from the middle of Round 1 (if in need of a running back) to Round 2. I just participated in an industry rookie mock draft and was thrilled to grab Dixon with the 11th pick in the first round. His abilities as a pass-catcher make his fantasy floor higher than other prospects, even if he lands in a complementary role. However, if given the chance to be the true featured back for the right team, Dixon could make a big fantasy impact in 2016.