From Chesapeake to Sacksonville, Exploring De’Shaan Dixon’s Path to the NFL

Follow former undrafted free agent De'Shaan Dixon's journey to the NFL, overcoming challenges to join the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The NFL has 32 teams with 90 spots every offseason. That’s 2,880 players. During the regular season, it cuts down to 53 spots for each team (1,696 players). Included in that are over 250 draft picks and even more undrafted free agents. To put it simply, it isn’t easy to make it.

However, De’Shaan Dixon did that when he made the Jacksonville Jaguars. In an exclusive interview with Pro Football Network, he told his story.

De’Shaan Dixon’s Path to the NFL

Dixon was born on Dec. 16, 1998, in Oklahoma City. He was then raised in Nashville, N.C., a city with a population under 6,000. He lived 20 miles from his elementary school and was on the opposite side of town from his middle school. “I could see myself, like, living there, but I don’t know if I could make a career in Nashville,” Dixon said.

However, it’s Chesapeake, Va., where he calls home.

“Virginia was kind of like a fresh start for me,” Dixon said, who grew up on the Western Branch side of town, attending Western Branch High School.

When he first started playing football at Western Branch, Dixon started as a wide receiver and tight end before switching to defensive end in his sophomore year. “I’ve always faced that challenge, that I was too small, just undersized,” Dixon said.

Football wasn’t always in the plans for Dixon, however. On top of basketball, he was also in the school’s band, loved music, and was a gamer. His favorite game at the time was Super Smash Bros. “That’s probably the all-time best game.”

Football became the plan, though, totaling 52 tackles, 18 total tackles for loss, nine sacks, and 23 quarterback hurries in his senior season. Dixon earned first-team All-Tidewater defensive end, first-team All-Monitor-Merrimac Conference, and second-team All-6A South Region. He was also an all-state selection.

Ultimately, following his senior season, Dixon had just two Division I offers: Norfolk State and Campbell. He took his first official visit to Norfolk State, committing by the end of the weekend. He did visit Campbell but stood firm on his commitment. “I didn’t feel as comfortable there as I did with Norfolk State,” Dixon said.

A Life-Changing Moment: Fatherhood

Dixon’s sophomore season at Norfolk State came under the second of three defensive staffs he’d play under. However, that’s when he met Justin Williamson, his new defensive line coach.

“He was my best coach,” Dixon said. “He gave me some fire, kind of gave me some motivation, and he always pushed me to be great … He was definitely my biggest motivator.”

Williamson’s coaching sparked a difference, especially in Dixon’s breakout junior season. In his first season as a full-time starter, Dixon led the team’s defensive line with 61 total tackles and posted seven tackles for loss, including 4.5 sacks.

“Junior year, I don’t know, I started to see that difference, just playing with more fire,” Dixon said.

From Chesapeake to Sacksonville, Exploring De'Shaan Dixon's Path to the NFL
De’Shaan Dixon during his time at Norfolk State; Norfolk State Athletics/Nick Sutton

It wasn’t just coaching, though, that sparked a surge. The birth of Dixon’s first child, Kori, had the biggest impact of all.

“Once I found out I was having a baby junior year, something clicked,” Dixon said. “The last stretch of junior year, right before that, I had found out I was having a baby; after that, that’s when numbers started to go up.”

“Before I found out, I was having an OK season, could’ve been better. I ended up having my best game junior year right after I found out,” Dixon said. “It brought the motivation that I need to do what I need to do.”

Going into Dixon’s senior season, Norfolk State head coach Latrell Scott resigned, leading to the hiring of Dawson Odums. As a result, an entirely new staff was brought in, with Williamson being let go. Dixon went on to set career highs, leading the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in sacks with nine and finishing second in tackles for loss with 12.5. He also amassed 54 total tackles.

More importantly, Dixon was appearing on NFL boards.

“I had moments during the season where I was just like, it’s really paying off,” Dixon said.

His success earned him invitations to both the East-West Shrine Bowl and the HBCU Legacy Bowl. “It was good, it was good in those moments seeing stuff like that, seeing people try to see who you are.”

Dixon Proving Himself at the Shrine Bowl

Following his college career, Dixon began training in Georgia with Chip and Chuck Smith. Chip is a renowned performance coach, while Chuck is the pass-rush coach for the Baltimore Ravens.

“What I learned with Chuck Smith in a span of three, four months, I learned way more with him than I did in college,” Dixon said.

However, before the draft came a pair of all-star games. First was the East-West Shrine Bowl, one of the premiere events for NFL Draft prospects every year.

“[The] first day of practice was nerve-wracking,” Dixon said. “I felt a lot of pressure.”

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One of Dixon’s most notable stories from the week came in a defensive meeting during introductions.

“It was a little bit out of character for me,” Dixon said. “I kind of blacked out a little bit. I said, ‘Hello, my name is De’Shaan Dixon. I went to Norfolk State, and I’m here to really stand out and prove that I belong here, and to outwork you guys because I’m trying to take your positions.'”

In the room was Thomas Davis Sr., a former NFL linebacker, among other current and former NFL players. “Thomas Davis Sr. was in the back, and he said, ‘I don’t believe that s**t,’” Dixon said. “I said, ‘Well, you gone see.’”

That encounter gave Dixon the fire he needed for the rest of the week. “I felt pretty good after the game. … I think I made good impressions there,” Dixon said.

From Chesapeake to Sacksonville, Exploring De'Shaan Dixon's Path to the NFL
Dixon (#18) in the East West Shrine Bowl; AP Photo/Gregory Payan

Next was the HBCU Legacy Bowl, which came just a couple of weeks later.

“I felt way more comfortable over there,” Dixon said. “I felt way better going there than I did at East-West. You can see on film; I just look more confident, playing my type of style.”

Making the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Roster

Ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft, Dixon knew he’d be a Day 3 or undrafted guy. However, when the Los Angeles Chargers, who had two seventh-round picks, called, he thought they’d select him.

Ultimately, they selected defensive back Deane Leonard and fullback Zander Horvath, leaving Dixon undrafted.

“It’s kind of like, I don’t know what’s next,” Dixon said. “It was a couple guys that did go, not to be a hater or anything, but it just felt like I did better than a lot of these guys.”

Dixon received offers from three teams as an undrafted free agent: the Jaguars, Baltimore Ravens, and Miami Dolphins. After looking through the rosters and deciding which team he’d have the best shot on, he decided to sign with the Jaguars.

Dixon would join Josh Allen, who he once looked up to in college, along with Travon Walker, who he believes has a similar personality to himself.

Despite receiving minimal playtime during the preseason, all it took was a chance. In the final preseason game of 2022, Dixon was given the second-half start against the Atlanta Falcons. That’s where he broke out: two solo tackles, six assisted tackles, and one sack.

“I blacked out,” Dixon said. “I don’t know what happened. … I was just going. I thought this was going to be my last game ever. I thought it wasn’t looking good for me.”

From Chesapeake to Sacksonville, Exploring De'Shaan Dixon's Path to the NFL
Dixon in his breakout pre-season game against the Atlanta Falcons via Dixon’s Instagram

Turns out, it wasn’t his last. With final cuts to be made, Dixon went back to the facility like normal — except it wasn’t normal. There were several guys missing. Yet, he was still there.

A team meeting later confirmed it when head coach Doug Pederson informed the room that they had all made the final 53-man roster.

“Nobody said anything. … My code still worked, and I still have my name on a locker,” Dixon said. “I realized there was some people who wasn’t in there. Sitting in a team meeting … I was confused because nobody said anything to me. Nobody said, ‘Hey, you made the team.’ I was just kind of in the moment.”

Dixon was the only undrafted free agent from the Jaguars’ 2022 class to make the active roster. “Inside, I was like, I really just did that,” Dixon said. “It was a huge moment for me. I was very proud of myself.”

Sophomore Season Challenges

After making the team, Dixon spent his rookie year inactive. Then, going into 2023, he endured a position change after Jacksonville asked him to bulk up and move inside to defensive tackle while also still receiving some reps at defensive end.

Dixon also switched position coaches from Bill Shuey, the outside linebackers coach, to Brentson Buckner, the defensive line coach.

The process began again, battling to make the roster, except this time, it was tougher.

“Second year was a little bit rough for me,” Dixon said. “I put on like 25 pounds. I was putting on good weight, it was just like I’ve never been this heavy before.”

“Playing inside is a whole different ball game than being on the edge,” Dixon said. “All the techniques were new to me. I had to learn a whole new position.”

Everything culminated in the final preseason game against the Dolphins, a game which Dixon recalled being rough.

“That was part of the reason I didn’t make it [on the initial 53-man roster] because I know the Miami tape wasn’t good.” Additionally, the game ended early due to a gruesome injury, limiting the snaps Dixon and many other players were going to receive.

“It was a bit of a development year,” Dixon recalled. He was ultimately waived, returning to the practice squad where he spent the entire 2023 season. While there was a chance he could have been called up, it didn’t seem likely from the coaches.

“I’ve always been the energy guy on the practice squad. Not an a**hole, but people are gonna hate me on the scout team,” Dixon said. “I’m steadily trying to make plays and make the starters look bad.”

Dixon’s Community Engagement and Future Goals

With the Jaguars and Jacksonville as a city, Dixon has been very involved in community engagement.

”Going into these elementary schools or going to these military bases or just doing something along the community lines, I feel morally good,” Dixon said. “I know the impact they see when they see a Jags player. … Just seeing a Jacksonville Jaguars player come into your school makes your day better.”

From Chesapeake to Sacksonville, Exploring De'Shaan Dixon's Path to the NFL
Dixon and teammate Dequan Jackson doing community engagement; Jacksonville Jaguars/Kerrigan Zambrana

“Them seeing us, it’s a good feeling. I enjoy that; I enjoy seeing that; I enjoy making these people’s day, making these kids go crazy, giving them something they can tell their mom when they get home,” Dixon said.

“I’m always in good spirits when I’m doing these things. It doesn’t matter the cause — I’m supporting everything that I can do for the community.”

While football is the focus and the goal, there’s more to life after football. In college, Dixon majored in sociology, getting his degree in the field.

“I think I will go into coaching at some point,” Dixon said. “I feel like I can help develop young guys.”

Additionally, he wants to go back to school, get his master’s degree, and be an urban planner. “I kind of want to be in the process or the planning for building schools, parks, rec centers, just stuff like that,” Dixon said. “I know how much they impact children and how much it impacted me. … I’ve always wanted to do something along those lines.”

Year 3 With the Jaguars

With Year 3 on the horizon, it’s still just the beginning for Dixon. After moving to defensive line last year, he’ll return to the edge in 2024 with Shuey as his coach once again, Dixon confirmed.

He is, however, still playing at a heavier weight (276 pounds), now playing in a 4-3 scheme under new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen.

“I’m feeling pretty good going into this year,” Dixon said. “I really feel like this is the year for me to show what I can do in a more comfortable position, a more natural position.”

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He will once again join Walker and Allen, among a handful of new guys.

“Make the team, one. Two, actually be productive this year,” Dixon said about his goals going forward. “I want to be able to show I can play at this level and get some good quality film for me. I gotta get some stats out there for me. I want to be able to make my first official sack.”

Dixon’s sack celebration? Who knows, he said. It isn’t set in stone, but he wants it to be different, something that people will remember.

“It really just be in the moment, though, like I don’t know what’s going to happen. I might just stand there,” Dixon said.

From Chesapeake to Sacksonville, Exploring De'Shaan Dixon's Path to the NFL
Dixon During Jaguars 2024 OTAs; Jacksonville Jaguars/Kam Nedd

“There can be a lot of key points, no matter where you come from,” Dixon said in a message for others. “Anything is possible if you put the time and effort and work in. It’s not all about the big names or anything fancy like that.”

“I want people to see, ‘Oh, he made it from an HBCU, which is very hard to do,'” Dixon said. “These big schools, they always getting the draft picks and stuff. Yeah, it’s nice and all, but there’s just as good of players coming from these HBCUs, coming from these small towns. Not even just HBCUs, like small colleges, anything outside of these Power Five schools.

“Making it from there, making my family proud, always keeping my head on my shoulders, always having a plan — stuff like that. I’ve been through adversity; my journey wasn’t perfect, I was undrafted, and I’m going on Year 3 in the league now. That says a lot.

“I just want people to be motivated off of that. No matter where you come from, no matter how small you are, no matter how big you are, how fast, whatever — you put the work in, the time in, it will pay off.”

What’s to come for Dixon? A lot.

“For me, just continue to make my family proud. Keep my legacy alive,” Dixon said. “Future Hall of Famer; I have big dreams and goals and aspirations that I want to get accomplished. I feel like I’ve got a lot of years left in me. I think I can do Calais [Campbell] numbers.”

“Expect some big things from me — that’s coming.”

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