Baylor has developed an impressive reputation for its offense under Art Briles, but this season their defense has been significantly better as well, able to shut down some opponents and slow down the rest so the offense just creates insurmountable leads. One of the prospects that should be drafted from the Bears defense this season is their strong safety Ahmad Dixon, who Baylor has used to do just about everything in their defense throughout his career in Waco. He has played in the box, as a star type nickel player, and as a deep safety that can protect over the top in coverage, all while having the ability to lay the wood.
Dixon is an intriguing player because he has impressive physical ability and will make splash plays, but he is still an unfinished product that has really not distinguished himself to play any one position out of the box. The tools are there to be a complete strong safety with additional work, especially when it comes to changing direction cleanly and improving his ability to read plays. He has some impressive strength and straight line speed but he has issues when it comes to quickness in small areas and he can get exposed. Dixon projects as a day three pick and is somewhat of a project who could be a boom or bust type player where if he figures it out, he can be great and if not, he is going to be on the end of the bench or out of the league.
Vitals & Build
Dixon is listed at 6’ 205lbs with a good mix of physical talent. He has the size, strength, and speed that teams will like for the safety position and there is little to suggest he cannot get even better in that department. Dixon appears to have the hips to do the job but he plays too high and it makes it difficult for him to change directions quickly and easily. Physically, Dixon is impressive and still appears to have the potential to get better, but he needs to improve in the technical and intangible parts of his game.
Dixon’s tackling has improved from a technical standpoint. He has the ability to make an impact tackle, but he can also form up and make a good, fundamental tackle. Occasionally, he will make mistakes with lunging and there are times when he will hesitate and it seems like it becomes a mental block for him. Instead of just playing, he is thinking about his tackling which only makes the problem worse.
Most of his mistakes come down to his angle and whether he puts himself in a good position to make a tackle, but getting better at changing direction and adjusting his angle more effectively would help him be more effective.
Dixon has the ability to protect the edge and play with outside leverage in the running game. He needs to get faster when it comes to reading and diagnosing and getting to the ball carrier with consistency. Dixon has to do a better job when it comes to choosing his angle to defend the run and is a player who can end up overrunning plays and putting himself in position to be blocked.
His inconsistency as a tackler has far more to do with his approach to the ball carrier and getting himself in position than it does with his technique. Dixon can be high cut and play too high which makes it difficult for him to break down and change direction. As a result, he is a player who can be victimized by cutbacks.
When Dixon can be in position to take the ball carrier head up, he can make a form tackle or make an impact tackle with the potential to cause a fumble. He is also aggressive when it comes to cleaning up a play and putting a hit on an opponent or going to rip out the ball.
If he can play lower and get better at sinking his hips when he changes directions, it will help him adjust to opponents trying to juke him and avoid getting beaten. Dixon’s aggressiveness and the fact that he will miss tackles due to bad angles occasionally causes him to go too far the other way; at which point he hesitates and gets caught flat footed and ends up diving as opposed to just going in and making a tackle.
Better angles and better instincts would make it easier for him to be more confident in his tackling and his ability to make plays in the run. Dixon appears to be a much better athlete than his play would suggest and bad angles and slow reads make him look like a slower player.
Dixon is accustomed to lining up near the line of scrimmage as well as at the linebacker level in coverage against the slot. He is accustomed to playing in man as well as dropping into zone coverage. Dixon is able to contribute in both areas but could improve in both.
Dixon plays too high and it seems to make it difficult for him to change directions. His hips seem to be fine, but he plays so high and he ends up running into problems. This usually shows itself in two ways. Dixon will end up guessing and trying to anticipate what a receiver is doing. When he is right, it looks great but he has situations where he is wrong and he gets beaten badly.
The other way this shows up is he gets left in cement trying to change direction while his opponent is able to make a clean cut and leave him in the dust. This is why he will end up guessing and trying to anticipate. He might be wrong some of the time, but he will at least be right some as well. He needs to sink his hips better and change direction more cleanly or this will make it so he gets exposed at the next level by athletic receivers and tight ends.
In terms of zone coverage, Dixon gets into his drops quickly and seems to have a good sense of where he needs to be and taking away passing lanes. He has the speed to cover a ton of ground over the top. Dixon seems comfortable playing and reading the quarterback’s eyes. That said, he needs to do a better job of breaking on the ball and getting to the receiver to get in position to make plays on the football as well as being in position to reduce or eliminate yards after the catch. He needs to be a more of a playmaker in all areas of coverage.
Dixon has not had a chance to demonstrate a ton in terms of ball skills because he does not get his hands on enough passes. The pass deflections he has are actually when he is rushing the passer. Dixon does a great job of jumping up and getting his hands in the air to deflect passes when he is not going to make it to quarterback. Part of the reason he is somewhat of a project at this point is because he has not been able to get enough passes to be a playmaker in that area of his game.
Dixon has experience covering kickoffs and he goes down the field looking to make an impact. His tackling form, as mentioned, can leave something to be desired and could result in some ugly swings and misses, but he can make a big hit on the ball carrier.
Dixon is likely going to move to a strong safety in the NFL. His experience as a rover has given him a lot of experience in playing near the line of scrimmage, so teams that want to use a strong safety to cover a slot receiver or play against a tight end could like what he brings. He has work to do on his technique but he also has the potential to be a benefit in run defense. Based on what he has done to this point in his career, he projects as a backup and developmental player that has the upside to become an effective starter.
In the meantime, Dixon could be someone who could help in a big nickel package and play that rover role he has for Baylor. Play out in space whether in zone or man and take away the alley while being able to keep a legitimate run defending presence. In a league that is increasingly employing read option with quarterbacks, teams can put a bunch of receivers on the field and use an athletic quarterback and running back to attack the small defense. A player like Dixon could conceivably be a specialist designed to help defend that option.
Dixon seems comparable to Michael Huff formerly of the Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens. Huff was a first round disappointment who had impressive physical ability coming out of Texas but needed to improve with technique and had a slow transition to the NFL. Through hard work and patience on the part of the Raiders, he never was able to live up to the first round but did work himself into a starting caliber safety which is what the Ravens brought him to be.
Dixon has a ton of athletic ability and physical potential. The Baylor defense asks him to do virtually everything in their scheme which is good and bad. He has a ton of experience fulfilling all kinds of different roles which is great, but he has not really mastered any of them yet. Dixon still has potential to get better at the next level, but much of that will depend on how he can improve his fluidity and ability to change direction. If he can do that, Dixon can become a really versatile option at strong safety that can play in the box and help in coverage over the top. Dixon projects as a third day pick with some intriguing physical upside that is somewhat of a boom or bust pick, which could make him a valuable pick on day three of the draft.
Some of the film used for this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com