Kenneth Dixon: The Magician

Before I began this Yards Created process, I went back and analyzed the final collegiate season of every running back in the class. Of course I looked into the “big names” in the class first — but something about Kenneth Dixon immediately caught my eye. And, oddly enough, it had nothing to do with the 2015 season.

Kenneth Dixon is one of very few NFL prospective running backs to have a breakout age of younger than 19. When Dixon was 18-years-old, Dixon posted a 200-1,194-27 rushing line and added 10 receptions in 12 games. His 27 rushing touchdowns set an NCAA freshman record for most rushing touchdowns in a single season.

I get what you’re probably thinking: the competition in the Conference USA at Louisiana Tech isn’t fantastic. But that type of production, at that age, at any level of college football is simply staggering. For perspective, roughly 4% of NFL Draft-eligible running backs “breakout”at 18-years-old.

The 22-year-old Kenneth Dixon is next up under the Yards Created microscope.

NoteBefore we get to the data, I want to urge anyone reading Yards Created for the first time to read the introductory piece where I give a detailed breakdown of my process. By no means is it perfect, but I am extremely excited to share what I feel is important bits of information.

Games Sampled 

Gm Att RuYds RuTDs Rec ReYds ReTDs
WKU 22 168 2 5 41 0
Ark St. 21 102 2 6 113 2
OU ’14 16 42 0 3 14 1
Ill. ’14 13 63 1 4 79 1
Marsh. ’14 20 156 3 0 0 0

Unfortunately, DraftBreakdown only offers two games from Kenneth Dixon’s 2015 season but they do have multiple games from 2014 (versus Oklahoma, Illinois and Marshall). For context, I’ll tease out the differences below.

Louisiana Tech’s Yards Blocked and Kenneth Dixon’s Yards Created

Per Att. Data Yards Blocked/Att. Yards Created/Att.
Total Attempts: 92 0.59 4.14

You may immediately notice that Louisiana Tech’s offensive line is considerably worse than Notre Dame’s (Yards Blocked: 1.26) from the introductory piece on C.J. Prosise.

The Bulldogs’ offensive line wasn’t much better in 2015, either. It’s just a two game sample, but the splits for the 2015 season were: Yards Blocked (0.84) and Dixon’s Yards Created (4.47).

It certainly helps that those two 2015 games in the sample were two of Dixon’s best of the season, but the 2015 data is not wildly different from his sample averages.

Run Type Data

Inside% Outside% Counter% Toss% Other%
64.13% 30.43% 3.26% 2.17% 0.00%

And here is LA Tech’s formation type on Dixon’s attempts:

Shotgun/Pistol Under Center
79.3% 20.7%

I added formation type to the data set to get a better feel of where the particular back is most comfortable or what he’s “used to” coming out of college.

Dixon shredded opposing defenses on outside runs creating 5.54 yards per attempt versus just 3.02 yards created per attempt on inside runs. I have to believe the difference here is due to poor interior line play overall and should not be used as a data point against Dixon as an inside runner.

The Yards Blocked data bears this out. The Bulldogs’ offensive line blocked 0.46 yards on inside runs versus 0.75 yards blocked on outside attempts. Anyway you slice it, the Louisiana Tech offensive line did not do Kenneth Dixon any favors and — as you will read below — Dixon has exceptional qualities as a pure runner.

Missed Tackles Forced (Rushing)

MT Power/Att. MT Elusiveness/Att. MT Speed/Att.
0.11 0.16 0.10

And here are Kenneth Dixon’s missed tackles forced receiving on a per target and opportunity (targets plus carries) basis:

Missed Tackles Forced (Receiving) and Missed Tackles Forced Per Opportunity

MT Power/Tgt MT Elusive/Tgt MT Speed/Tgt MT/Opp.
0.08 0.33 0.04 0.388

Dixon’s combine metrics are a bit up-and-down — he owns a 57th percentile Agility Score per PlayerProfiler — but that data point does not capture Dixon’s suddenness and balance as a runner. An incredible 51.1% of Dixon’s total missed tackles came via elusiveness in his five game sample.

All of these missed tackles forced by elusiveness may make you think Dixon is just a “small” back, but as evidenced by his missed tackles forced by power scores (0.11 per attempt), I’m not sure that is the case. Just as a note here, Dixon played his final season at 215lbs and beefed up to 222lbs at his Pro Day.

Overall, Kenneth Dixon checks the box for ability to force missed tackles in a big way. We’ll see if he can continue to make defenders look silly with his elusiveness in the NFL, but there is a real chance those concerns may be a wash once he gets behind his first ever talented offensive line.

Route/Target Data plus Average Depth of Target

Route/Target Data Routes/G Targets/G aDOT
Total Targets: 24 9.20 4.80 -0.13

And here is where Dixon ran his routes from:

Backfield Route% Split Wide%
91.30% 8.70%

Aside from Dixon’s ability as a runner, the biggest selling point for an NFL team is his ability as a pass catcher. If he fails to progress or his rushing ability does not translate in the NFL for whatever reason, he will always have a role on a team as a pass catcher.

His ability to make people miss in space by elusiveness and general feel for receiving out of the backfield make him one of the best pass catching back in the last two draft classes.

Below is a breakdown of final-season receiving production of some of the top prospects from the 2015 and 2016 NFL Draft classes. Kenneth Dixon leads every major category (receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns): dixonrec

Again, level of competition has something to do with this equation. To me, all of these data points line up: Dixon’s field vision, balance and overall production at the position points to a fantastic receiver.

Pass Protection

Pass Pro Att. Pass Pro Execution %
30 70.0%

For context, C.J. Prosise owned a 75% pass protection execution in his five game sample. At the time this article was written, Prosise and Dixon are the only two running backs that I have full Yards Created samples complete for.

Dixon’s pass pro numbers aren’t abysmal by any means, but he does need some polishing as a pass blocker once he gets to the next level. That is nothing out of the ordinary for young running backs at this early stage of their career.

Conclusion

Ironically, C.J. Prosise and Kenneth Dixon may be the two running backs I am most excited to see drafted come April 28th-30th. I may be biased because I began this whole process with these two players, but we know Ezekiel Elliott is going to go fairly early and Derrick Henry should be a top-50 pick.

Dixon’s ability to create yards behind a genuinely awful offensive line, capability to routinely make defenders miss and prolific receiving production places him near the top of the class. I went into Dixon’s Yards Created sample with no expectations whatsoever and came out convinced he’s an absolute magician amongst running backs.

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