Michigan’s offense added another future weapon with the addition of California four-star wide receiver Cristian Dixon. The 6-foot-2 receiver fits the type of player Josh Gattis is targeting for the 2021 cycle as a tall outside threat.
Dixon transferred to uber football factory Mater Dei for his junior year after playing at Diamond Ranch previously. There are positives and negatives from moving to a more talented squad. He is more likely to get exposure at Mater Dei and play in a modern offense that almost exclusively uses 10 personnel (four wide receivers and one running back on the field). He also got to catch passes from 247Sports No. 1 player in the country last year, Alabama signee Bryce Young.
However, entering a crowded wide receiver room did cause his production to drop. As a sophomore at Diamond Ranch, he caught 42 balls for 862 yards and nine touchdowns. In his first season at Mater Dei, he had 35 receptions for 611 yards and six touchdowns.
I watched two games for this scouting report, Mater Dei’s third game of the year against Centennial (AZ) and ESPN broadcast highlights from their fifth game of the year against St. John’s (MD). Against Centennial, Dixon wasn’t even a starter, only coming in when they went five wide. Mater Dei can afford to do that when their starting receivers are:
Kody Epps: Class of 2020, three-star, signed with BYU
Kyron Ware-Hudson: Class of 2021, No. 130 overall, committed to Oregon
Josiah Zamora: Class of 2021, unranked
CJ Williams: Class of 2022, No. 31 overall, national offers
You could tell Dixon was still learning the system at that point in the season. However, he broke out in the Centennial game, catching three passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. By the time they played St. John’s, he had supplanted Zamora and was in the starting lineup.
I was more impressed by what I saw from Dixon against St. John’s, who plays man coverage. He is very adept at beating his man off the line of scrimmage and snapping off his routes at the top to create separation. This is especially apparent on curl and comeback routes, on which he had a few catches.
Here, he chops his feet hard to turn on a dime, catches the ball away from his body and is elusive enough to avoid the cornerback and pick up more yards after the catch.
Dixon looks to have sure hands, almost always going up to catch the ball away from his body. On this touchdown catch against Centennial, the most difficult part of the play was lining up correctly, which is what I’m referring to earlier when I said he still looked unsure in the offense. CJ Williams had to yell at him across the formation to come back in and narrow his split.
During the actual play, Dixon gets wide open down the seam. Young has an easy touchdown but throws the ball short, causing Dixon to have to stop and adjust his body to the ball behind him. He controls his body smoothly, still reaching out to pluck the ball out of the air instead of catching it in his chest.
I think the biggest knock against Dixon is his long speed, which is good but not great. He clocked a 4.63 40-yard dash at an Opening Regional in Feb. 2019. That will be enough to get by on the outside but certainly doesn’t make him a burner.
That lack of top end speed prevented Dixon from beating his man to the edge on this long catch. Starting as the receiver on the top of the screen, Dixon gets across the entirety of the field while Young scrambles and eventually finds him. Dixon has created space from the trailing cornerback and catches the ball in stride, but can’t quite get by him and is caught from behind.
He would not have been able to score since the safety was coming in to cut him off, but I would rather he get tackled by that guy than the cornerback coming in from behind.
Given all the traits I saw while watching Dixon’s tape, I don’t really get the dramatic drop in the rankings that 247Sports gave him in their June offensive update. His rating fell three spots, from a 90 four-star to an 87 three-star. I think his previous spot, at the low end of four-star range, was appropriate.
Nevertheless, he will have a chance to prove himself on one of the biggest stages in high school football this fall. He’ll have a bigger role in Mater Dei’s offense and even though Bryce Young graduated, top 100 USC quarterback commit and former Michigan target Miller Moss transferred in this offseason.
At Michigan, Dixon will have a good shot to see playing time early on. By the time he gets to campus, Nico Collins will be gone, with Ronnie Bell and Cornelius Johnson as the presumptive starters on the outside. He’ll have a chance to rotate in snaps, competing with Roman Wilson, Markus Allen and whoever else Michigan brings in for the 2021 class.