One thing nobody can deny about Cincinnati Bengals’ 2017 second round draft pick Joe Mixon is that he is very talented. A few years ago, the Bengals’ backfield was mentioned as one of the best in the NFL. Now it features more questions than answers. It even misses out on being a top five Bengals position group. Hopefully Mixon can be the answer to many of the questions in the backfield. But the biggest question as of now is, how early and often he will see the field.
With that in mind, here are five arguments for why Mixon should be the Week one starter at running back in 2017.
1) Jeremy Hill has been ineffective for the past two seasons.
Hill has been objectively bad since the end of his extremely impressive rookie campaign. Other than a few outlier games against teams like the Browns, Hill has averaged close to or below 3.0 yards per carry for the past two years. You can blame this on a variety of factors including the scheme changing, the blocking being less dominant, or Hill getting too fancy in the backfield. Whatever way in which you justify it, Hill is no longer fit to be a starter in Cincinnati.
2) Giovani Bernard is coming off a torn ACL.
Bernard is an excellent second back and can even take over starter duties for short periods of time. He has showed some wear and tear when asked to take over starting duties for long periods of time in the past, but, that’s not his job. His role as a change of pace back isn’t changing, the only problem with Bernard for 2017 has nothing to do with his talent and more to do with the fact that he tore his ACL in the second half of the 2016 season. Now, reports say his rehab is going great and he should be ready before the season, but that should be taken with a grain of salt. On top of that, players coming off ACL injuries are often not themselves at first and take some time to get back up to speed.
3) Mixon is a top 10 talent, if not for off-the-field issues.
Mixon is an extremely talented running back and purely based on talent, could be the top running back in this year’s draft class. Mixon tested very well athletically and has the ideal running back size unlike first round pick Christian McCaffrey, who is too small for many teams to consider him their feature back. Mixon has an ideal blend of size, speed and talent and if it weren’t for his off-field issues, he could have easily been the top running back off the board and gone before the Bengals’ Round 1 pick was made. Do you think Leonard Fournette and McCaffrey will be starting this year with the Jaguars and Panthers, respectively? If they’re starting, Mixon should be, too. The Bengals can’t afford to leave his talent on the bench.
4) If you're going to draft Mixon, you should use him right away to justify the baggage.
As soon as the Bengals picked Mixon, there was an immediate uproar against the team with many people insulting the Bengals and their locker room culture. That is generally not the kind of look you want brought upon your organization. It even has some fans saying they’re done with the team.
Whether it’s fair or not, the Bengals were singled out for drafting Mixon and the front office knew they were going to get significant negative attention for it. But, in selecting him regardless of that, they clearly imagined quickly receiving a good return on their investment. Let’s see that investment pay off sooner than later and leave NFL fans in awe of Mixon’s on-the-field ability.
5) The Bengals' offense needs a running back who can create plays on his own, despite bad offensive line play
The offensive line is easily the biggest concern for Bengals fan and will remain that way until the players prove to be at least an average unit. With that in mind, getting a guy like Mixon is a big help as he can create for himself better than a player like Hill. Additionally, Mixon has the ability to run out of the shotgun, which gives quarterback Andy Dalton a better view of the field and the ability to get the ball out more quickly. He will make the offense less predictable when on the field in the shotgun and is also extremely dangerous when going out for a pass. He will have to be respected in both regards, which is a great thing for offensive coordinator Ken Zampese, and this offense.
Are you convinced Mixon should be the starter for 2017? Will it need to wait until mid-season, as was the case with Hill? Or, will it come Week 1, as it should? The Bengals need to get off to a quick start this year, considering the tough division, and can’t allow themselves to fall behind due to starting Hill and seeing him continue to be ineffective.