It has happened before: a college player with a controversial past manages to impress NFL scouts and coaches so much with his talent, he bypasses all of the red flags and ends up being drafted high purely because of his on-field potential. In 2017, that player appears to be Joe Mixon.
However, despite all the baggage, Mixon is a scout’s dream on the field. His incredible burst, mastery of both elusive and power running styles, and excellent pass-catching ability are the reasons why he received all Big-12 honors and led the conference in explosive carries. With 194 all-purpose yards per game, he ranked among the top-five runners in the country. His running style looks and feels perfect for the NFL, which is why teams like the Bengals are ready to look past his off-field history to take a chance on his on-field potential.
“I’ve heard the Saints, I’ve heard the Vikings have done a ton of homework, pro days and a visit as well, the Cincinnati Bengals, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Oakland Raiders,” NFL Draft analyst Josh Norris said on NBCSN radio. “There might be a few more here and there. He might be on a secondary board for the Dallas Cowboys, not necessarily on their top board, so if he slides a little bit. And I think that that is … other teams will have that similar conversation.”
Of all the teams mentioned, the Bengals have the best chance at picking Mixon up, if they are so inclined. Some scouts and analysts think of him as a first-round talent. However, there’s nearly no chance he goes in the top-15 draft picks due to his baggage. Interestingly enough, those are the two teams who are pegged as his biggest suitors, albeit as a second-round target.
“If I were to peg a few that are interested the most, the Bengals, absolutely, early I think at like pick No. 41 in the second round and the Philadelphia Eagles in round two as well.” Norris said.
If the Raiders do not pick Mixon up at No. 24 overall and the Cowboys do not pick him up at No. 28 overall, it will be interesting to see what move the Bengals make. The Bengals currently have Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, and Cedric Peerman on the running back roster. Bernard and Hill have both shared production over the years, while Peerman is a major special teams contributor and little more.
It is no secret Hill has struggled as the Bengals’ starter, making it very likely for the Bengals to restructure their running back corps if the right player is available. However, the Bengals could also target a player like Alvin Kamara of Tennessee, who seems to employ most of the same upside of Mixon without all of the baggage.
“I would not be surprised if a number of those teams think they can just pivot to a clean Alvin Kamara,” Norris said. “Because, I think Alvin Kamara out of Tennessee has a similar skill set for teams that want to deploy that type of receiving back with running upside, as well. Again, Alvin Kamara has done, basically, nothing wrong, in comparison to Joe Mixon.”
Choosing between Kamara and Mixon involves a classic risk assessment that seems to be so prevalent in any NFL Draft. Do you risk a high pick on a player like Mixon, for his potential to develop into a great running back, while knowing he could potentially burn out of the NFL quickly due to character concerns? Or, do you go with the safer option who could also turn out to be great, albeit a bit less explosive, but comes with a clean past? It is a classic dilemma, one that could either make the Bengals look like draft geniuses or idiots, depending on how the player they choose pans out in the NFL.