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Kenneth Dixon entering a make-or-break season with the Ravens

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Time may be running out on the former Louisiana Tech product’s tenure in Baltimore.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Los Angeles Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

When the Ravens drafted running back Kenneth Dixon in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL draft, many believed Baltimore was getting a steal. After all, Dixon’s production at the collegiate level was almost unheard of: 5,452 scrimmage yards, 5.6 YPC, and 87 combined touchdowns - all in four seasons at Louisiana Tech.

Dixon began his NFL career with experience, upside, and talent, all of which suggested he’d be both an immediate and long-term fixture in the Ravens backfield. However, flash forward to present day (three years later), and this has yet to materialize.

Dixon’s struggles to stay on the field have been well-documented. Since suiting up for 12 games his rookie season and showing flashes of the player we saw in college, it’s been a bumpy road for Dixon. He missed the entire 2017 season after being suspended for the first four games and then suffering a torn meniscus.

Many believed Dixon wouldn’t make the 53-man roster heading into last season. He did, however, but was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury in September. This almost certainly appeared to mark the end of Dixon’s career with the Ravens, until he was surprisngly activated off IR in the beginning of December.

From there, Dixon put forth the best stretch of his young career. Over the final six games of the regular season, the 25-year old turned 60 carries into 333 rushing yards and two touchdowns, good for an impressive YPA of 5.6. Dixon was instrumental in spearheading a dominant rushing attack alongside Gus Edwards and Lamar Jackson. His performance against the Browns in the regular season finale was nothing short of impressive. Dixon was nearly unstoppable at times and ripped off several big chunk plays, rushing for a career-high 117 yards on just 12 carries.

After emerging as an X-factor during the team’s playoff run, one would think Dixon earned himself a sizeable role heading into next season. However, after the Ravens signed Mark Ingram in free agency and drafted Justice Hill, things are in a bit of a tricky spot.

Dixon’s talent and promise are unquestioned. Even as the Ravens are set to utilize multiple running backs and deploy a run-heavy scheme, though, Dixon’s exact fit in the backfield is murky.

Ingram will almost surely see the majority of rushing attempts as the starter. It’s hard to envision Dixon slotting ahead of Edwards, either, given the latter saw significantly more carries last season. That puts Dixon as the third RB on the depth chart, but even Hill could potentially see more playing time given his explosiveness and receiving chops.

Dixon’s playing style is similar to that of Ingram and Edwards and barring any injuries or unforseen developments taking place, he’s not going to jump either of them in the pecking order. Dixon doesn’t offer much as a pass-catcher, so the question becomes just how much early-down work will he see as the #3 option in the backfield?

Much like last year, some have begun floating around the possibility of Dixon not making the roster. It’s far too early in the offseason to begin jumping to conclusions but this scenario seems unlikely. So long as the Ravens seek to keep four running backs on the roster and Dixon doesn’t suffer an injury or suspension of some kind in the coming months, he should be safe.

With that being said, however, the 2019-20 season is almost certainly shaping up to be a make-or-break one for Dixon. His skill set overlaps with other running backs on the roster and he’s entering the final year of his rookie contract.

If there’s any chance of him sticking around long-term, Dixon will have to prove himself to be a consistent, reliable contributor. Based on how his career has played out thus far, banking on this happening seems like a risky proposition.