The Clemson Tigers boasts the most complete running back in football in Travis Etienne. Etienne, who has eclipsed 200-plus carries over the past two seasons, is widely expected to be the first running back selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. Given the shortage of established pass-catchers at their disposal, there is little doubt that the Clemson offense will run through Etienne in 2020. Since I fully anticipate the offense being predominantly run-heavy throughout the early part of the season, it warrants a closer look at Etienne’s primary backup, Lyn-J Dixon. Though often overshadowed by his highly-acclaimed teammate, Dixon has quietly pieced together two quality seasons in his limited opportunities.
Clemson RB Lyn-J Dixon has grown into a vital weapon
Dixon’s roots as a Taylor County phenom
Before graduating to a promising collegiate career, Lyn-J Dixon thrived as a multi-faceted running back for Taylor County High School in Butler, GA.
Over his four-year career, Dixon rushed for 5,174 yards and 73 touchdowns on 629 carries and accumulated 76 receptions for 1,088 yards and nine touchdowns in the passing game.
Dixon, heralded as the 171st-ranked player and 10th-ranked running back in the nation by ESPN, fielded offers from prominent SEC programs, including Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, but decided to go in a different direction. After persistent pursuit by Clemson offensive coordinator and running backs coach Tony Elliott, Dixon decided to commit to the ACC powerhouse.
Dixon’s Clemson beginnings
Unlike many newcomers in his position, Dixon instantly factored into the Tigers’ backfield rotation, albeit in a limited capacity.
Dixon, who initially played behind Travis Etienne and Adam Choice, saw 106 offensive snaps over 13 games in 2018. The 5-foot-10, 195-pound ball carrier rushed for 547 yards and five touchdowns on just 62 carries.
His whopping 8.82 yards per carry ranked fifth in college football among qualifiers and set a Clemson record for players with at least 300 rushing yards in a season.
Dixon earned ACC Rookie of the Week honors following a dominant performance against Wake Forest. In that contest, the Tigers running back rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns on ten carries.
Seizing opportunities with the Tigers
With Choice no longer in the fold, Dixon served as the primary backup to Etienne in 2019. While emerging from the immense shadows cast by one of college football’s elite is no easy task, Dixon again capitalized on his offensive touches.
Appearing in 15 games, Dixon totaled 635 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 104 carries and 14 catches for 121 yards. His snap count (283) nearly tripled from his freshman output, and there was no denying his impact on the Tigers’ offense.
Although he never reached triple figures in rushing yards, Dixon opened eyes on a national stage. In an early-season contest against 12th-ranked Texas A&M, Dixon led the Tigers in rushing yards (79) and added a touchdown on 11 carries.
Clemson RB Lyn-J Dixon’s 2020 outlook
The state of the 2020 college football season may be in disarray, but the Clemson Tigers will be among the participants.
The outlook remains the same for Dixon on the surface; he will again assume the role of Etienne’s understudy, but the circumstances around the Georgia native have changed.
With Tee Higgins moving onto the professional ranks and Justyn Ross set to miss the 2020 campaign due to spinal issues, the once-formidable Tigers’ receiving corps will have a much different look this season. If Clemson continues to attack opposing secondaries, it will now be with Amari Rodgers, Joseph Ngata, and Frank Ladson Jr.
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As intriguing as that group may be, it takes countless reps to establish timing, and the unprecedented offseason likely hindered that.
Due to an unfamiliar group of pass-catchers surrounding Trevor Lawrence, it is feasible to suspect that the Tigers will look to the ground game in the early goings.
Dixon will have to wait another season before taking command of the Tigers’ backfield, but he has enough enticing traits to pull it off. While he doesn’t boast prototypical size for the position, Dixon is a home-run hitter in space, and his acceleration through the hole is something to marvel at.
Dixon can also significantly impact the passing game as a dual-threat back. Dixon’s patience at the line of scrimmage is a work in progress, but he has demonstrated discipline in waiting for things to develop at times.
If Dixon continues his upward trajectory, the Tigers will have among the most diverse running back tandems in college football.