There were numerous questions surrounding DT Antonio Dixon when he came out of college. The Miami product had serious concerns about his weight as well as some personal life issues stemming from a horrid childhood. His father served 17 years for drug trafficking, his mother’s addiction lead to him entering foster care, and he spent time living in a homeless shelter as well. On top of that, Dixon has a speech impediment and finds it difficult to talk to the media.
All of this factored into him going undrafted in 2009. He was initially signed by the Redskins and later claimed off waivers by their rival, the Philadelphia Eagles.
It is testament to the belief Eagles’ coaches have had in Dixon that he has became the premier player in a defensive tackle group that boasts three players drafted in rounds one and two (Bunkley, Mike Patterson and Trevor Laws.) It’s also easy to see why Antonio Dixon is the Eagles’ Secret Superstar.
Clogging the Middle
Dixon flashed during his rookie year. As a run defender, he accumulated a +3.9 grade in 119 snaps. He wasn’t making a lot of plays, with just ten stops, but he’d more than shown he deserved a roster spot already.
With an expanded role in 2010 – a torn bicep for incumbent Brodrick Bunkley against San Francisco gave Dixon a chance to start in Week 6 – he did not disappoint. He ended the year ranked 8th overall in our run defense grades for interior defensive linemen, surrounded by players like Antonio Garay, Haloti Ngata and Kevin Williams. His playmaking was once again lacking (just 21 stops), but this is understandable considering the 2-gap scheme that asks Eagle defensive tackles to eat up blocks.
Dixon put in one of the most memorable run defending performances we saw all year against Chicago. His day was highlighted by three tackles for a loss and he gave Olin Kreutz fits throughout the game. The Titans’ interior can’t have been happy to see him either in Week 7 as neither Eugene Amano nor Leroy Harris had an answer.
Not Yet a Pocket-Collapser
While against the run he was sometimes supreme, he has failed to match that level when rushing the passer. In 229 pass rushes in 2010, he put up just seven quarterback disruptions, two of which were sacks. This was worse production than his rookie year where he had six combined pressures in just 120 snaps. Considering he only plays in the base package (the Eagles use their defensive ends inside in the nickel,) his opportunities have thus far been limited, however, if his recent performances are anything to go by, that’s no bad thing.
It will be interesting to see the effect of the new system under recently hired defensive line coach Jim Washburn. The shift will be towards a more disruptive and aggressive 1-gap scheme in contrast to the gap control of previous years. Washburn also used his defensive tackles in the nickel during his time in Tennessee so Dixon may find himself with more of an opportunity in the coming year.
A new scheme fit?
Dixon’s size leads many to believe he’s a prototypical 4-3 two gap player but he’s surprisingly agile for a man that goes about 330 lbs. While he hasn’t yet produced while rushing the passer, he has shown some explosion and block-shedding ability many times against the run. If anything, the new plan may fit Dixon better than the last.
Talented players usually find ways to thrive in different schemes. Dixon is certainly that. However, a quick glance through his grades shows he still has a lot of work to do. Against weak competition, he was simply dominant, but when he came up against good run blocking teams like Houston (LG Wade Smith and C Chris Myers,) he struggled. It’s his performances against top opponents that will dictate whether Dixon can take the next step.
Dixon is much more than a feel-good story. He’s got the skills to produce in the NFL and we’ve only had a glimpse of what he’s capable of.