Mississippi State pro day takes

A look at two of Mississippi State’s top prospects and their potential at the next level following their pro day performances.

In our book, Dixon is still a potential featured back

It’s obvious on tape that Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon isn’t the most explosive straight-line athlete, so why is it such a shock to everyone now? It was Dixon’s ability to consistently create behind an undermanned offensive line against some of the best defenses in the country last season that makes him the back he is.

Dixon exhibits impressive balance, fluidity and change-of-direction skills for his size and consistently is able to make defenders miss and create plays in a phone booth, even when plays aren’t blocked off properly. And as I discussed Friday in my Ryan Mathews-Montario Hardesty breakdown, creating plays behind the line of scrimmage when nothing is there is half the battle in the NFL. No one has as much experience doing that than Dixon.

Dixon’s stock has taken a hit this postseason because of his lack of elite top-end speed after he recorded a 40 time in the mid/high 4.6 range at the NFL Combine. However, he rebounded nicely on Thursday at the Bulldogs pro day with a 4.61 and was said to look “great” during position drills, cleanly changing directions and maintaining his balance in and out of his breaks. That’s exactly the reason I have Dixon ranked so high despite his lack of elite straight-line speed. The guy still has the ability to make would-be tacklers miss in tight areas, and he can break tackles and consistently get to the second level.

Remember, one of the biggest misnomers in the NFL today is that you need elite top-end speed in order to break big runs, which is simply not the case. Most 20-yard-plus runs that happen in the NFL happen for one reason only: missed tackles. And I would argue that there aren’t many running backs in this year’s class who do a better job of sidestepping or breaking tackles in tight areas than Dixon.

Now, Dixon doesn’t come without flaws. He isn’t a natural catcher in the pass game, has some minor character concerns and, as I said, isn’t going to run away from anyone in the open field. But any time you watch a tape of this guy, the one thing that sticks out is his ability to get more out of less than any other running back in the country.

I still project him as a potential featured starting back in the NFL and think he has a skill set that compares favorably to Raiders running back Michael Bush. And as we’ve seen in past drafts, backs who don’t run well during the postseason process often have a tough time getting selected in the first two rounds. So if an NFL team is in need of a power back, much as Shonn Greene fell to the third round and was a steal for the Jets last year, Dixon could be that guy in 2010.

Chaney and Raiders just make sense

It’s no surprise that following his impressive pro day performance, which included a 40 time in the low/mid 4.5 range (with some stopwatches having him in the mid 4.4 range), Mississippi State linebacker Jamar Chaney met extensively with the Oakland Raiders, according to sources who were in attendance.

Chaney was said to look smooth during position drills and seemed to be fully recovered from a fractured leg he suffered in 2008 that cost him some of his effectiveness and range last season.

However, Chaney has put up some of the best workout numbers of any linebacker during this year’s postseason and now is starting to create some positive buzz for himself as we get closer to draft time. It’s no surprise that the Raiders at least seem have some interest in the speedy Mississippi State standout.

The Raiders have question marks at the strong-side linebacker spot, where former collegiate DE Trevor Scott currently is listed as the starter. And although Scott has shown an ability to reach the passer, Chaney’s 4.5 speed might be too enticing for owner Al Davis to pass on as a three-down option.

The Raiders did take a shot on former UTEP standout Thomas Howard in the second round in 2006 after his brilliant postseason workouts. And as we’ve seen in the past, the Raiders aren’t afraid to take a player they like a little higher than other teams would. So it wouldn’t surprise me if that guy is Jamar Chaney in 2010.

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