It's not every year that an NFL team is talking up a punter as one of its top draft picks, but after the Broncos took Riley Dixon from Syracuse in the seventh round, Broncos GM John Elway and Special Teams coach Joe DeCamillis were doing just that.
"He's got a real good chance to be a good punter in the NFL," Camillis said of the once-Heisman Trophy candidate.
The question is whether the former walk-on-turned-scholarship-punter with fiery orange hair for the Syracuse Orange can be a good punter for the defending Super Bowl champions, and Sean Keeley believes he absolutely can.
Granted the founder of the Syracuse blog, Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, is unabashedly biased, he makes some compelling arguments below (and given the fat contract our current punter holds, there could be millions of reasons to keep Dixon).
I'll be wearing number 9 as a Bronco!! Can't wait to get out to Denver and get after it.— Riley Dixon (@RileyTDixon92) May 3, 2016
MHR - The Broncos drafted Syracuse punter Riley Dixon in the seventh round - their last pick of the 2016 Draft. Was this a smart use of a draft pick, in your opinion, for a team with a lot of current talent at many positions?
Sean Keeley - To be honest, that's a tough question for a Syracuse fan to answer because we're so biased in Riley's favor. You guys should have taken him in the first round as far as we're concerned (half-joking...).
My feeling is that by the time you get to the seventh round, it's such a crapshoot anyway, why not invest in a skill position where you have a chance to lock down one of the best prospects out there as your future mainstay? You can always bring in free agents to fill in the gaps at your "more important" positions, but if Riley's as good as you think he is, you made sure you got him before anyone else did.
MHR - Dixon has been drafted to "compete" with current punter Britton Colquitt who is enjoying a very cushy contract (much to the chagrin of many fans) with rather mediocre results - career average 45.2 yards per punt, longest 67 - which are similar to Dixon's college stats (42.6 average punt). Do you think Dixon could beat out Colquitt and offer the Broncos' a solid - but cheaper - option at punter?
Sean Keeley - 100 percent yes. If you look at Riley's career at Syracuse, it's not hyperbole to say that he was, pound-for-pound, one of the best performers on the team almost every season. Let that say whatever you want it to say about the state of the SU Football, but it's still true. Dixon was about as dependable as we've ever had when it comes to punting, and his numbers were always near the top of the conference. If the Broncos want to invest in a young guy who can still get better but will also provide them with tangible results in the meantime, he's your guy.
MHR - John Elway was asked in his post-draft press conference what made a good punter, and he joked that Riley "pointed his toes" before deferring to ST coach Joe DeCamillis. Can you tell us some technique characteristics that have made Dixon a good punter for Syracuse?
Sean Keeley - Granted I'm not a punting expert, but I can say that Dixon was always the kind of punter who could put the ball where it needed to go. If you needed to get the ball as far away as possible, he had the leg for it. And he's earned a reputation for forcing fair catches by getting a ton of air under the ball. He also performed well on directional kicks when needed. I think ultimately what works in his favor is that he's a more complete athlete than just a kicker. He played some quarterback in high school and even had a few opportunities at SU to show off his agility and arm. He won't be called upon much for that in Denver, but it speaks to his abilities.
MHR - This position is often overlooked by fans - even teammates - until field position becomes crucial. One of Dixon's strengths has been noted as his hang time. Do you think he can be the kind of punter to really help out our defense with hang time and ball placement?
Sean Keeley - 100 percent. In the last three seasons he booted 50 kicks over 50 yards and forced a fair catch on 88 punts (out of 215). If nothing else, he's got the ability to put the ball up there and give the Broncos a chance to shut down returns while also taking a sizable chunk out of the field.
MHR - Many of Dixon's highlight videos show the punter successfully pulling off fakes to score or get a first down. Is this a strength he can bring to his NFL game as well?
Sean Keeley - Oh yeah, we half-joked during the last two seasons that Dixon was the best quarterback on the team. His fakes, which were extremely successful either by pass or run, became such an expectation that we started to get surprised when they actually went through with the kick. Obviously that's not something that will come up too often in the NFL, but it's nice to know you have a punter/kick holder with that skill in his back pocket.
MHR - Against LSU, Dixon scores a touchdown after a fake kick and then gets up and appears to punch an opposing defender, which drew a few comments from our readers. What can you tell us about his "demeanor" on the field in general (and maybe that punch in particular)?
Sean Keeley - OK, so if you watch the video, he's obviously not trying to punch the LSU player. He just converted a first down against an SEC defense on a fake rollout and he's super-pumped, so he does a celebratory air-punch without realizing there's an LSU defender right there. Anyone who thinks Dixon is a showoff or cocky needs to take a walk because anyone who actually followed Syracuse over the last four years would tell you that's probably the humblest, nicest guy on the roster. He just got caught up in the moment.
Riley probably did more charity work than anyone else on the SU team while he was here, often getting recognized for his work off the field, not to mention his strong academics. By all accounts, he's a model citizen and a great representative for your franchise.
MHR - Dixon's size and power appear to be obvious strengths. What else do you see as positives for this guy making the team?
Sean Keeley - I think his demeanor can't hurt. He's not going to make waves, and you don't have to worry about him being a distraction. Not that too many punters are. Consider that this is a guy who came to Syracuse as a walk-on, earned a scholarship and eventually got so good that he was drafted into the NFL. The work ethic that goes into that transformation is impressive.
MHR - What is something we likely don't know about Dixon? (which could be anything...there's not much out there!)
Sean Keeley - In case you guys don't know, we did our best to get him the Heisman Trophy. Didn't work out, but now it's up to Broncos fans to get him the MVP.
MHR - What do you like best about this kid?
Sean Keeley - I think I've just always appreciated the way he's handled himself. He became a bit of a folk hero at Syracuse due to how good he is and his run/pass fakes, but he always remained appreciative of the support without ever losing his humble nature. It was a pleasure to root for him at Syracuse, and now we hope to root for him in Denver.