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4 Reasons Why Joe Mixon Won't Fool You Twice - Footballguys

A detailed look at Joe Mixon's fantasy prospects for 2018

Fantasy owners tend to remember when players let them down. That's especially true when the player is uber-talented and cost legitimate draft capital. That's why Joe Mixon's rookie season was so disappointing. As soon as Cincinnati drafted him, Mixon was destined to overtake the plodding and pedestrian Jeremy Hill. But stubborn coaching, a weak offensive line, and injuries led to a lack of playmaking and fantasy points.

So why should owners go back to the well? Why reunite with the significant other who didn't give their all to the relationship? Because what was on paper last season is still there today. And the things that held Mixon back are either non-existent now or were addressed in the offseason.

  1. Opportunity: Hill is gone. Mixon's usage increased when Bill Lazor took over as offensive coordinator.
  2. Offensive Line: The team traded for tackle Cordy Glenn, used the 21st overall pick on center Billy Price out of Ohio State, and brought in former Dallas offensive line coach Frank Pollack to coach the unit.
  3. Playmaking: Mixon has shed weight back to his ideal size, something that should add to his speed and play-making ability.
  4. Injuries: Mixon had bad luck with injuries last season that hurt the continuity of his season.

Opportunity

Despite his selection in the second round, Mixon was a first-round talent. Most first-round running backs have to fail miserably not to be given a chance at first-team duties. But for Mixon, stubborn coaching led to him playing 30% of the team's snaps in the first two weeks. On the season, Mixon played under 40% of the total snaps, though injuries contributed to that figure (more on that later).

With Hill out of town, Mixon should dominate the early-down carries, short yardage situations, and goal line work. After Cincinnati's slow start to the year, Cincinnati fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese. His replacement, Bill Lazor, used Mixon as though he was the most talented all-around running back on the team (because he was).

With Hill gone, Lazor back, and Giovani Bernard being more suited for a change-of-pace role, Mixon should be the bell cow. Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin said as much at the NFL Combine.

"Joe really came on for us in the later part of the year, second half of the season. He's going to be our bell cow running back. We are going to combine him with Gio (Bernard) and we really feel good about that position group."

Offensive Line

Last season, Cincinnati's putrid offensive line held back the offense. With few holes made, Mixon couldn't find anywhere to go. In fact, Mixon's critics are quick to bring up his 3.5 yards-per-carry average last season.

While that's far from dazzling, consider that Hill averaged only 3.1 yards per rush. As a team, Cincinnati averaged 3.6 yards per carry, third-worst in the NFL. Cincinnati's 7.3% sack rate, 11th-worst in the NFL, further illustrates the troubles up front.

This offseason, Cincinnati addressed the weakness in three ways. First, they made a pre-draft trade with Buffalo that involved swapping first-round picks (numbers 12 and 21) to acquire Glenn, the veteran left tackle. Then, on draft night, Cincinnati used the 21st pick from the Buffalo trade to draft Price, the talented center from Ohio State. Last, Marvin Lewis brought in Pollack as the new offensive line coach. Pollack had coached Dallas' elite offensive line as an assistant and primary line coach since 2013. The talent and coaching are significant upgrades.

WaistLine

While Mixon supporting cast is improved, he bettered himself personally, too. After weighing around 228 pounds when he left college, Mixon played at 238 pounds last season. It's important to be big enough to handle an NFL workload, but carrying more weight than your frame can support can sap a runner of speed and quickness.

In fact, per ProFootballFocus, Mixon's elusive rating ranked 49th out of 53 qualifiers. He forced only 21 missed tackles on 208 touches. This offseason, Mixon reported to minicamp at 225 pounds and is looking to drop five more.

For a player who ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day (while weighing 228 pounds), sub-230 seems to be the optimal range. That 40 time would have been fourth-fastest at the NFL Scouting Combine had Mixon been invited and run it there. And the three faster times were all run by players lighter than him.

Coming out of college, a popular comparison for Mixon was Le'Veon Bell. Mixon even "copied" Bell's style - both as a runner and with his accessories. Further Bell comparisons include the fact that Bell also averaged 3.5 yards per carry as a rookie. And instead of continuing to be relegated to "big back" status, Bell also shed weight to change his playing style. When asked why he wanted to lighten the load, Bell said:

"Turning an 8-yard gain into a 70-yard gain."

Bell simplified things well there. Turning one or two eight-yard gains into larger chunks would improve the 3.5 average that is the biggest argument against Mixon.

Injuries

In Week 11, Mixon had 22 touches. In Week 12, he had 26 touches and his best performance of the season, gaining 165 total yards and scoring a touchdown. In Week 13, however, Mixon left the game early with a concussion. After missing Weeks 14 and 15, he returned against Detroit but tweaked his ankle and had to leave early. In Week 17, Mixon ran for 96 yards on 18 carries.

The injuries hurt his consistency right as he was becoming Cincinnati's only reliable offensive player. Some players are injury-prone, but injuries are mostly a product of luck. With better injury luck, Mixon can improve simply by being on the field more.

Projections

Below is what our world-class projectors think about Mixon in 2018.

Projector
Games
Rushes
Yards
TDs
Receptions
Yards
TDs
RB Rank
David Dodds
15
219
878
7.0
32
272
1.0
16
Bob Henry
16
220
975
8.0
38
335
1.0
15
Jason Wood
16
215
840
6.0
37
300
1.0
17
Maurile Tremblay
16
222
842
5.4
35
291
0.7
18

Final Thoughts

The tweet above shows that Mixon can be a dynamic playmaker. And it's worth noting Mixon did show some big-play ability last season. He caught 30 passes on 34 targets for 287 yards, including a long of 67 yards. Consistent opportunity, a better line, a lighter and quick frame, and better injury luck should allow Mixon to improve upon 2017. Cincinnati's offense ending up middle-of-the-road at best is the most effective claim against him. But fantasy football has shown us that volume-driven runners can produce solid numbers - even on mediocre offenses. And with Mixon being a lock for goal-line work and very likely to catch 40+ balls, he should exceed his draft price.


Other Thoughts

Let's see what the contributors to the Shark Pool think about Mixon's prospects.

Shark Pool mainstay travdogg agrees that Mixon's offensive line and opportunity were both down last year and are set to improve.

I thought Mixon played much better than his statistics indicated last year. He was constantly having to make guys miss the second he got the ball, just to get back to the line of scrimmage. The o-line has been improved, how much is up for debate, but it'll certainly be a better. The Bengals also had a very strange season, where they had their fewest rushing attempts and TD's since the backfield was led by Benjarvis Green-Ellis. That was probably a bit of a fluke.

TheDirtyWord brings up a good tactical point about draft strategy and ADP.

At current ADP levels, Devonta Freeman -- a player who is the lynchpin on a potentially explosive offense and who has averaged 1450 YFS/12 TD's over the past 3 seasons -- is going RB11 (FFC currently) and Mixon is RB16...That's a HUGE drop off in a very small section of the draft.

...the drop-off in comfort level between the RB you can get in the middle of Round 2 vs. beginning of Round 3 is significant.

So is the beginning of Round 3 the place where you want to draft an RB when if you think about the beginning of Round 5, you've got other fliers you can take like Ronald Jones, Royce Freeman, Sony Michel, Dion Lewis, Carlos Hyde, et al?


Questions, comments, suggestions, and other feedback on this piece are always welcome via e-mail hester@footballguys.com