In his first season in the NFL, Joe Mixon failed to live up to lofty expectations with a current ADP of 31. The highly touted second-round pick was one of the top running back prospects of last year’s draft class. Mixon probably would have been drafted in the high first round if it wasn’t for his off the field concerns. With Mixon’s size, speed, and receiving ability he has all of the potential to produce in the NFL at an elite level. Player profilers have him in the 91st percentiles for weight adjusted speed score. The real question is what went wrong for Mixon and what can change to make him reach his potential.
What Joe Mixon Brings
The most important part of Joe Mixon’s potential production is Joe Mixon himself. Mixon came into the league from Oklahoma with an elite skill set. At 6’1” 225 pounds, he ran a 4.50 forty yard dash when weight adjusted put him in the 91st percentile for running backs. Fantasy players salivated over Mixon’s potential with his mix of outstanding athleticism and college production when he went pro.
Outside of his rushing ability Mixon is a fantastic pass catcher. Even in a year adjusting to the offense and competing for receptions with fellow running back Gio Bernard, he caught 30 balls on 34 targets. Not only did Mixon prove himself as a reliable target out of the backfield he proved efficient averaging 9.6 yards per reception. That would put him at seventh in yards per reception for running backs with at least 25 receptions right behind Alvin Kamara.
Mixon didn’t start at the beginning of the season as the primary runner in the offense competing with Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard in the rushing game. Hill got injured and then cut after the season and Gio stepped into more of a pass catching third down role with only 105 carries. When Lazor took over as the offensive coordinator Mixon found an expanded role. With Lazor as the OC, Mixon averaged 17.1 touches per game (minus weeks 15/16 where he didn’t play the full games due to a concussion.) Taking that 17.1 touches per game for the entire season that would put him for 12th out of NFL running backs in total touches.
What Went Wrong
The Bengals were an inefficient offense this season ranking 31st in rushing yards, 27th in passing yards and dead last in the league in overall offensive yardage. This ridiculously terrible offensive production is not something that can be fixed by one player it’s a complete overhaul that’s needed. The Bengals finished in the bottom fifth of offensive production in every major category making improvement almost inevitable.
Their pace of play was also stagnant ranking last in plays ran on an average time of drive. With the Bengals running so few plays it didn’t allow for them to establish a run game let alone any form of offense. Below is a breakdown of their total production and rankings as a team.
|Bengals||Rushing Att.||Rush Yards||Pass Att.||Pass Yards||Total Yards||Points/game||Plays Ran||Avg Drive|
The Bengals production woes start at the offensive line with Pro Football Focus ranking this unit 5th worst in the league. The Bengals used 21 different starting line combinations. This type of turnover in personnel and lack of talent hinders a running back like Mixon. As a runner, Mixon takes his time finding a hole in the offensive line and then bursts thru. Coming out of college that was one of his best traits that he brought to the NFL was his ability to be patient and read his blocks similar to how Lev’eon Bell follow his line. The Bengals offensive line gave Mixon absolutely nothing to work with by only creating 1.31 yards which ranked in the bottom ten in the league.
Along with the bad offensive line, the passing game left little to be desired for the Bengals. Outside of A.J. Green, the Bengals were incredibly limited at receiver due to injuries (Tyler Eifert, John Ross, and Tyler Boyd). Both Joe Mixon and Gio Bernard had more receptions than all but 2 receivers on the team (Green and Brandon LaFell). With nothing to fear out of the receivers, opposing defenses and an offensive line that was consistently dominated, opposing defenses were able to in their base defense and not have to worry about having to adjust to the Bengals offense.
What has improved?
So far this offseason the Bengals have already started to improve as a team in three different ways. The first is getting healthy, last year the offense was without All-Pro tight end Tyler Eifert who was a major cog in their offense over the last few years. They also lost first-round pick John Ross whose speed is there to keep defenses honest, and slot receiver Tyler Boyd who proved he could be a nice complimentary piece. That varied infusion of talent allows for the passing game to be more productive which opens things up for their rushing attack.
The next thing the Bengals did was trade back from pick 12 to 22 with the Bills to grab left tackle Cordy Glenn. While Glenn spent a lot of last season hurt he has a proven track record of performing at a pro bowl level. The addition of Glenn gives the Bengals an immediate improvement at the most critical position on the offensive line. By adding him, and moving back the Bengals should be able to grab a second high caliber lineman at their guard spot or center to help bolster the rushing attack.
The last thing that changes is a full offseason with implementing Bill Lazor’s offense. The Bengals fired Ken Zampese after 2 games of scoring zero touchdowns last season and promoted Lazor to the offensive coordinator. While it didn’t look pretty his system was never fully integrated. When Lazor was the offensive coordinator in Miami previously, the Dolphins finished second and ninth in yards per rushing attempt. If the Bengals are able to get close to his prior production for running backs it could mean big things for Mixon. The combination of these three things should make a substantial difference in improving the offense overall and making life much easier for Mixon.
Looking at potential changes and improvement to the offense makes the future look incredibly bright for Mixon. In fantasy, football volume is king for running backs and with a full offseason of implementing Bill Lazor’s offense, Mixon should see an uptick in touches getting closer to the 20+ touches a game mark.
The worst case scenario the offensive line improves just a little bit to the middle of the pack pushing his average to 4.0 yards per carry (averaged 3.76 with Lazor last year) at just 16 carries per game would put Mixon at 1024 yards. With just the minimum improvements that’s puts Mixon at 208 PPR points which places him at RB12 aka a running back one.
|Games||YPC||Carries/Gm||Yards||Rec||Rec. Yds||Total TDs||PPR Points|
The Bengals as a whole will be improving with the passing game adding, Eifert, Ross, and Boyd back plus any improvements they make via the draft. With just the production they have by adding them it should allow for the team to have more plays per game, less stacked boxes and more red-zone rushing attempts. According to PFF, the Bengals have the easiest 2018 schedule against the run, which also bodes well for Mixon. If all of the stars continue to align like they are we could see a meteoric rise in production, from 2017 to 2018. While it may not be as ridiculous as the improvement we saw with Gurley even a portion of that puts Mixon in great shape.
|Games||YPC||Carries/Gm||Yards||Rec||Rec. Yards||Total TDs||PPR Points|
Joe Mixon is a prime candidate for a sophomore breakout this season in the NFL. Finishing his rookie season he had one of the worst supporting casts for offenses in the league. The team can only go up from where they are now which is a great sign for Mixon. Mixon has all of the talent in the world and a coordinator who knows what he has in him and how to use him so the sky’s the limit. Right now is prime opportunity to buy low on Joe Mixon in dynasty because this opportunity may never come again.