(Throughout the spring, DallasCowboys.com will be providing live reports from NFL Pro Days at college campuses around the country. On Tuesday, Sean Isabella of The News Star attended Louisiana Tech's Pro Day to see a trio of high-profile draft targets).
RUSTON, La. — Kenneth Dixon has spent his entire football career proving he is capable of handling the load as an NFL running back. His final step in solidifying that came Tuesday at Louisiana Tech's Pro Day.
The record-setting running back, who ranks second on the NCAA's all-time touchdown list from scrimmage, went through a light workout on the Bulldogs' home field in front nearly every NFL franchise to display his talents as a pass-catcher.
Dixon seemed bothered by his hamstring and didn't run or participate in any testing drills — he kept his 4.58 40-yard dash from last month's NFL Combine — but he ran numerous routes, showing off his hands and explosion up the field in the process. NFL Films was on hand to document his every move with a total of 20 prospects — 15 from Louisiana Tech and five from Grambling State — on hand to participate.
"I felt like I put my best foot forward. I showed that I can run routes and I caught the ball very well out of the backfield and also gave good burst down the field and showed I was in shape," Dixon said. "I did a pretty good job."
Dixon's college numbers speak for themselves — 78 touchdowns and more than 5,000 yards from scrimmage — but that type of production doesn't always translate to the next level. He'll hope to change that as a potential early selection in anywhere from the second to fourth round.
After spending his entire career at Louisiana Tech playing the company line, Dixon has been outspoken during the past few months to prove his numbers against Conference USA and Group of Five teams wasn't just a fluke. He's also set out to show teams he can play in the NFL as a three-down back and isn't limited to a scat back role.
Either way, Dixon claims he just wants the ball in his hands, because as Louisiana Tech's coaching staff can attest to, good things happen when he is toting the rock.
Dixon's minor role in Tuesday's Pro Day shifted the spotlight to Vernon Butler, who was able to reclaim his position as one of the top defensive tackles in the 2016 class. Butler uncharacteristically tested below his expectations at the NFL Combine but made sure to improve on his numbers across the board.
Butler ran the 40 in the 5.1 range on Tuesday with one time at 5.05. Those numbers were a sizable improvement from his 5.33 mark at the Combine. He also improved on his vertical jump from 29.5 to 33.5 and moved his broad jump from 8-8 to 9-3.
"I knew at the Combine those weren't my real numbers. I just got back in with (Louisiana Tech strength and conditioning) coach (Kurt) Hester and got back to work. It was a pretty successful day."
The long, athletic defensive tackle can play multiple positions and prides himself on athleticism despite being 6-foot-4 and 321 pounds.
Butler has been invited to Chicago for April's draft and should be a lock to be among the top 50 picks off the board.
Top picks: DT Vernon Butler, RB Kenneth Dixon, QB Jeff Driskel, S Kentrell Brice, DB Adairius Barnes
Top performer: Among the big names of Butler, Dixon and Driskel, it was Brice, a 5-11, 200-pound safety who stole the show with his measurables. Brice ran a 4.38 40, notched a 42-inch vertical jump and recorded an 11-1 broad jump. Brice even admitted afterward he exceeded his own expectations, although his teammates weren't surprised since he's a workout warrior.
Possible fits for the Cowboys:
Kenneth Dixon: Dixon is one of the more versatile running backs in the class due to his ability to run, catch and block. He did it all at Louisiana Tech, setting multiple school and NCAA records in the process. Dixon doesn't have breakaway speed, but he's quick enough in the open space to make people miss. Louisiana Tech's offensive line was subpar most of Dixon's career, so it's hard to judge how he can consistently run between the tackles. Behind Dallas' talented offensive line, it may not even matter. Dixon could help a team like the Cowboys right away as a third-down back before blossoming into a more prominent role. He even packed on weight to get up to 222 pounds in order to take a beating in the NFL.
Vernon Butler:Butler is one of the more intriguing defensive tackle prospects in the draft simply because his stock is based off potential. Butler's numbers — 50 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, three sacks — don't jump off the page, but he has enough upside to get teams interested. He's athletic and powerful enough to become a solid NFL player as long as he does it on a consistent basis. The big question is, how do the dominoes fall with the rest of the DL class? If teams decide to wait, Butler could fall to a lucky team in the second round.
Jeff Driskel:The former Florida Gator is the quintessential developmental quarterback. Driskel is a hard worker and is smart enough to learn a system to potentially pay dividends to a team down the road. Driskel showed drastic improvements in his one year at Louisiana Tech, but his tape is limited. No one is doubting Driskel's athleticism after he ran a 4.56 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, but teams will want to see how his accuracy and decision making are under pressure. He continued to show progress at his Pro Day, putting zip on the ball even in windy conditions.
Adairius Barnes:Barnes had just one interception after picking off five passes as a junior in 2014. He had his moments as a senior, displaying lockdown corner tendencies in man coverage then getting picked apart at other moments. He has athleticism — 41.5-inch vertical jump and a 4.50 40-yard dash — and could be a late-round pick or priority free agent.
Kentrell Brice:Brice had 60 tackles in 2015 and nine pass breakups. He was regarded as Tech's hardest hitter and also moved into the slot in nickel situations. His measurables Tuesday also say he has the raw ability to potentially earn a tryout or sign as a priority free agent.
What they said:
Butler on his performance at Pro Day
"A couple of them after the drills were over told me I made a lot of money. I just wanted to go out there and show how athletic I am and how well I move."
Brice on his top numbers in 40, vertical and broad jump
"I hope the scouts took a couple double-takes."
Dixon on his ability as a receiver
"I feel I have separated myself from some of the running backs in the draft with my catching ability because the percentage of drops I had, I had a lot of balls thrown my way in my career with very few drops. I feel a running back that can catch the ball out of the backfield and can also line up and run routes and can block, be that every down back, that's great. That's what teams are looking for."
Dixon on gaining seven pounds to get up to 222
"It was a hard process. You have to expand your stomach a little bit and learn how to eat a lot more. I want to be in the NFL a long time so me being at 220 will help me out a lot."
What others said
Dixon on Butler being a menace at DT
"Vernon is just a beast. I ain't see too many people blocking him one-on-one. He just came out here and showed those guys he is the real deal and it wasn't just about the conference he was playing in and that it's what's in the heart."
Holtz on Butler's Pro Day
"I think he's got a first-round draft grade by a lot of the people that I talk to. Now there may be 50 guys that have a first-round draft grade so obviously they all can't go in the first round. I definitely think Vernon helped himself today."
Holtz on what Driskel proved as a passer
"I thought Jeff threw really well. I think there were only two balls that hit the ground. He overthrew one deep ball and he had one drop. But I thought he threw the ball very well. He throws the ball so effortlessly. When you look at this size, the way he stands out there and the way he throws the ball, I thought he threw it really well today."