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Very Deep Sleeper: RB Kenneth Dixon (Fantasy Football)

Jun 27, 2018

Kenneth Dixon was supposed to be a force before injury

R.C. Fischer discusses deep sleeper candidate and Ravens running back Kenneth Dixon in Season 3 of his Very Deep Sleeper series for FantasyPros.

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Remember, way back when, all the way back to January 2017, that Kenneth Dixon was the future of the Baltimore Ravens backfield? A lot of terrible things have happened for Dixon since then…

— Dixon injured his knee in offseason workouts, and thought he’d miss a few weeks recuperating, but then it turned out he needed surgery and was ruled out for the 2017 season.

— Dixon was also suspended for four games for PED usage.

— Dixon was then levied two more games of suspension for a failed drug test.

From a guy who ended 2016 with a TD in three of the final four games of the season and who was expected to be the lead dog RB in 2017 to knee surgery and two suspensions. And then he got to watch as Alex Collins became the new folk hero in the Ravens backfield. One preseason later, Dixon is expected to ‘fight for a roster spot’…no longer seen as ‘the future’.

The sleeper story here seems cut and dried. Former college superstar, highly regarded prospect, and nice NFL rookie debut season running back overcomes his knee surgery and carves out a role, and perhaps gets pushed back into the limelight due to an injury to Alex Collins, and we all get excited with Dixon once again.

No.

I mean, yes. That could happen, but that’s not what I’m pushing here. I’m going to make the case that Dixon is going to be starting by somewhere around Weeks 1-3. A full starter and PPR stud, potentially right out of the gates in 2018. Maybe.

The reason I’m pushing Dixon is not that I like his talent (and I do). No, it’s more sinister or dark than that. I’ll make the talent case in a moment, but the window of bigger opportunity with Dixon in 2018 lies with Alex Collins. It’s the Alex Collins factor that adds rocket fuel to the Dixon case for 2018.

Folks, Alex Collins is not the future at running back for the Baltimore Ravens. He won’t last 2018 as the main starter. He’s not a good/great feature back in the NFL. He’s a marginal talent (4.59 runner at 217 pounds at the NFL Combine) with all kinds of issues that started getting exposed as his 2017 mini-breakout season wore on.

You have to understand – Collins is a below-average athlete at running back and he has some of the worst ‘hands’ in the league. A constant fumble issue and well below average as a receiver out of the backfield. He’s a nice, ‘try hard’ runner who will give you all he’s got, but he doesn’t ‘got’ much to give – which is why Seattle cut him before the 2017 season.

Collins came out of the gates fast with the Ravens in 2017 on limited/rotational/backup carries. He breathed a little life into the running game and took over the main starting job a few weeks into the season. As teams adjusted to this new starting RB/Collins, his numbers started to fall – 5.98 yards per carry his first seven games with Baltimore in 2017 (80 carries) and then a plummet to 3.75 yards per carry his last nine games (132 carries).

As the Ravens tried to expand Collins in the passing game later in the season, he caught only 10 of 18 passes (55.5% connection rate) in his final three games with a heavier target opportunity. He struggled with the passing game basics too many times.

Collins fumbled four times in 2017 and was quasi-benched in-game a few times early on in 2017 because of ball security. Collins has fumbled six times in 277 career NFL touches – a fumble every 46.2 touches (a fumble every two+ games for a ‘main carry’ guy). Above all things, coaches hate fumbles more than anything. Collins has too many times forced himself off the field with untimely fumbles. It’s a known issue and the antennae are up with the coaches – and he’s not that super-talented where you take some bad with the good/great. He’s easy to bench and replace.

Collins fumbled the ball 16 times in college over three years – a fumble every 43.8 touches.

Collins is a stiff but tough runner with poor hands and instincts in the passing game and is a fumble problem. Kenneth Dixon is pretty much the opposite of all of that.

Dixon is a very shifty, instinctive runner – a four-year stud starter for Louisiana Tech, and one-time #1 in NCAA history in total TDs (until Navy QB Keenan Reynolds broke the record soon after). Dixon has that X-factor where his vision and shifty feet come together to make him a dangerous between-the-tackles runner…where Collins is more all straight-ahead, no wiggle. Dixon has some old Ray Rice in him.

Where Dixon really shines is in the passing game…a virtual wide receiver playing running back. Dixon is money on swings, screens, and bubble passes, but he’ll also work intermediate and deep routes. One example of where you can see the Ravens knowing what they have here – in Week 13 of his rookie season with Baltimore, he caught eight passes on 11 targets for 42 yards and a score working out of the backfield/all over the field.

Dixon, at full health, is a better, more instinctive and athletic runner than Alex Collins or Buck Allen. Dixon is also far superior in the all-around passing game.

Dixon is the most talented running back the Ravens have. The problem is that Dixon has botched his good standing and his opportunity due to the injury and then the suspensions. He’s back to the bottom end of the depth chart trying to work his way up like in his rookie 2016 – as he should have to.

This preseason, Dixon enters the RB competition as the most talented RB on a team with a poor offense and a coaching staff under fire – they don’t have time to mess around. If Dixon is ‘back’, he’s going to work his way into the rotation, which at a minimum is reason to not like Collins for fantasy 2018. However, if Collins starts fumbling and/or dropping passes, and there’s Dixon putting on a show – the Collins feel-good ‘he’s our guy’ story will last all of a week or two.

Part of this sleeper story is Dixon’s superior three-down talent, but it’s made more exciting/possible because of what a soft takeout target the incumbent starter Alex Collins is. Dixon could very much win the starting job in August just by his preseason play versus Collins/Allen, or Collins could just fumble it away quickly in 2018 season, causing a panicked/frustrated coaching staff to turn to their best RB weapon…the guy who was supposed to be ‘the man’ last year.


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