After moving back seven spots in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings, the Bengals acquired an extra fourth round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and selected Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon with the 48th overall pick. Mixon had been linked to the Bengals on numerous occasions during the pre-draft process, after the Bengals met with Mixon at his pro day and privately later on in Cincinnati.
Mixon is the third running back the Bengals have selected with a second round pick in the last five drafts, and is a more talented prospect than the previous two in Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. The off-the-field reasons for which Mixon was still available here at this juncture are far too well known at this point, but with him and this year’s first-round pick John Ross, the Bengals offense suddenly looks a lot different than it was one year ago.
What Mixon brings to the Bengals:
All-around ability: Mixon is a better ball carrier than Hill and better receiver out of the backfield than Bernard. At Oklahoma, he was used exclusively out of shotgun sets and on swing passes and occasionally lined up in the slot. He’s the best athlete at the running back position in this class in terms of size, speed and agility, and has the prototypical size for a running back in a traditional Marvin Lewis Bengals offense.
Scheme fit: Mixon is about as close as the Bengals were going to get in regards to plugging a back into their offense seamlessly. With all that usage in Oklahoma’s spread offense, Mixon developed the required patience and vision to thrive in a zone blocking scheme. Mixon, unlike Hill, showed that he didn’t need a lead blocker to do his work for him, and that he has the ability to read gaps from the outside in. This gives him an immense advantage over Hill in regards to effectiveness in the backbone of the offense, and avoids them from changing up the scheme entirely, and allowing them to operate under 11 personnel more and not be limited by have to having a fullback on the field on obvious run downs.
Home-run capability: Per PFF, 22 of Mixon’s 189 rushing attempts from last season went for 15 yards or more, and posted a 57.3% breakaway percentage, which ranked best in this draft class. Mixon’s ability to turn any carry into a first down and more is a huge upgrade to both Bernard and Hill’s capacity in that area.
Character risks: Yeah, we can’t hide from this. Mixon has shown to be a proven trouble maker over the last few years. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion about his decision making but Mixon’s troubled past makes him a risk in the future. Not everyone can change their ways, the Bengals have to believe (or hope) Mixon does, or all of his positives on the field will mean nothing.
Why the pick makes sense:
Rounding out the offense: With the selection of Ross on Thursday night, the Bengals crossed off speed at wide receiver as a need. Now with Mixon, they can cross off lead running back too. Bernard’s status for Week 1 is still up in the air, and Hill is coming off another lackluster season as the team’s starter. With Rex Burkhead now in New England, they needed some insurance and stability at the position, and Mixon provides that with his natural ability. Where Mixon will be on the opening depth chart is unknown, but the Bengals are back to four running backs, and their offensive attack has been revamped after a disappointing 2016 campaign.
Countering the loss of Whitworth and Zeitler: Cedric Ogbuehi and Andre Smith aren’t going to be enough in place of Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, so taking a guy like Mixon, who has shown doesn’t need perfect blocking up front makes a good amount of sense. Mixon’s balance and vision as a runner will help him generate yards on his own when the blocking up front isn’t ideal, another advantage over Hill.
Sticking to trends: The Bengals are very predictable in terms of drafting positions in certain rounds. Running backs in the second round has become about as common as cornerbacks in the first round, so to take a running back here in the middle of the second makes about as much sense with the position being one of need.
The Bengals rarely trade but when they do, they typically trade down. To gain an extra fourth round pick this year while still drafting the player they were targeting is an easy bonus.
I spoke with D&H sports about Mixon on part three of our draft preview series, so check that out below!