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Broncos draft: Scouting Riley Dixon

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With our final pick of the 2016 draft, the Broncos drafted Riley Dixon, a punter from Syracuse.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

It's no secret that I have been critical of Britton Colquitt's regular season performance and his contract. He did, however, perform amazingly well in the playoffs.  The Broncos were rumored to have interest in Tom Hackett, the punter from Utah, who went undrafted. When the Broncos drafted Riley Dixon at 228 he was the second punter taken behind Drew Kaser from Texas A&M at 179. There were threw punters drafted this year (some years there are no punters drafted) and four more guys signed as college free agents.

Punter College pick #
Drew Kaser Texas A&M 179
Riley Dixon Syracuse 228
Lac Edwards Sam Houston St 235
Will Monday Duke UDCFA
Tom Hackett Utah UDCFA
Peter Mortell Minnesota UDCFA
Garrett Swanson Fresno State UDCFA

So why did we draft Dixon? Well, it wasn't that he was the best punter in college football last season. Statistically that was Tom Hackett in terms of average punt distance

Rk Player School Conf G Punts Yds Avg
1 Tom Hackett* Utah Pac-12 13 61 2925 48.0
2 Dalton Schomp Florida Atlantic CUSA 12 44 2101 47.8
3 Drew Kaser* Texas A&M SEC 12 60 2848 47.5
4 Michael Carrizosa* San Jose State MWC 13 48 2280 47.5
5 Spencer Smith* Memphis American 13 43 2030 47.2
6 Sam Geraci* Cincinnati American 12 44 2036 46.3
7 Joseph Davidson* Bowling Green State MAC 14 54 2483 46.0
8 Hayden Hunt* Colorado State MWC 11 52 2393 46.0
9 Taylor Symmank* Texas Tech Big 12 8 33 1518 46.0
10 Austin Rehkow Idaho Sun Belt 12 50 2296 45.9
11 Trevor Daniel* Tennessee SEC 13 60 2742 45.7
12 Johnny Townsend* Florida SEC 14 83 3765 45.4
13 Nick O'Toole* West Virginia Big 12 13 71 3223 45.4
14 Drew Riggleman* Arizona Pac-12 13 52 2357 45.3
15 Cason Beatty* Florida State ACC 13 61 2756 45.2
16 Rigoberto Sanchez Hawaii MWC 12 74 3335 45.1
17 Nicholas Conte Virginia ACC 12 52 2322 44.7
18 Tyler Newsome* Notre Dame Ind 13 55 2446 44.5
19 Tyler Williams* Marshall CUSA 13 70 3108 44.4
20 Alan Luna Texas-El Paso CUSA 12 65 2885 44.4

Wait! We drafted a punter who wasn't in the top 20 in the FBS in net punting? Yes, we did. Note that one of the drafted punters, Lac Edwards, played at an FBS schoool. So where did Riley Dixon rank? 29th with an average punt of 43.7 yards last season for the 4-8 Syracuse Orange. So maybe he just had an off year. Nope. He finished 39th in the BCS in net punting in 2014 and 45th in 2012 (42.4 and 42.1 net yards per punt respectively). So then why did we draft this punter?Well, he's big and tough (6'5", 220 lbs) which can be seen in his youtube highlight video of his fake punts and fake FGs, but that's not why we drafted him.

We drafted him because he is a master of hangtime and forcing fair catches. Dixon forced the returner to fair catch the ball on 42.4% of his punts in 2015. He can boom kicks when he needs to according to many scouts at the Senior Bowl

First Senior Bowl tweet about a punter. Some bombs from Cuse punter Riley Dixon here at practice.

Dixon in the low 4s pretty consistently on hang time. Not bad for these conditions but low by NFL standards

There was a punter for the north squad, Syracuse's Riley Dixon who was booming his kicks. Very impressive leg.

Rare for Punters to steal the show, but Riley Dixon really turned some heads today. At 6'5"/220 you can see where he gets the power

His average punt may have only been 43.7, but his net was an amazing 41.9. That's right. The opposing team averaged 1.8 yards per punt return last season against Syracuse. Now that was according the this article which seems dubious since Dixon did have a punt returned 69 yards for a TD against LSU in 2015 (that's also the game where Dixon hurtled a defender on a fake punt to gain a first down - both are in the highlights).  He also had a punt returned for 31 yards against him (and his bad coverage unit) against NCSU. Dixon punted 65 times in 12 games in 2015 and only 14 of those were returned.  The fact that only 21.5% if his punts were returned in 2015 is impressive (unless he is hitting them all for touchbacks). He did have four punts go for touchbacks in 2015 (6.2%) but that was coupled with 27 punts that forced the other team to start their drive inside the 20 (41.5%) and seven of those were downed inside the 10 (10.7%). If Dixon had produced those two stats in the NFL last season he would have been in the top 10 in %in20 and in the bottom 10 in terms of %in10. He would have been middle-of-the-pack in touchback% but that's usually a function of poor coverage units more than a function of a kicker who is not very good at directional punting. Riley Dixon appears to be very good at directional punting, getting hangtime and punting the ball for distance.

You might laugh but this kid can be a weapon for us like Colquitt was a weapon for us in the playoffs.

Video: Punting Camp with Riley Dixon

Watch and listen for the hangtimes that Dixon was getting. He's consistently getting 5+ seconds of hangtime. That video was shot at a high school in Scottsdale, AZ - elevation 1247' above sea level. Project what Riley is going to be able to do at a significantly higher elevation.