Weight and build are both huge focuses for NFL players, especially at the running back position.
Running backs need to be big enough to bulldoze over opponents, but not so heavy they can’t dance around would-be tacklers, which can make them very one-dimensional. A big reason the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Joe Mixon was his mastery of both bowling over and dancing around opponents.
Mixon’s weight was somewhat scrutinized by the Bengals’ coaches when he checked in at 238 pounds at rookie minicamp. That was 10 pounds more than he weighed at his pro day in early March, where he weighed 228. But, after Marvin Lewis said Mixon needed to get back into shape, the rookie running back got to work right away and has dropped about 10 pounds in the last month since rookie minicamp.
“I’ll never be that heavy again. Never,” Mixon told Jim Owczarski of Bengals.com. “It was mainly flying around and eating super good. That’s what it was.”
Many NFL teams took Mixon out to meals in the month between his pro day and the draft, the Bengals included. With significant travel, a busy schedule, and expensive meals all part of the pre-draft process, it’s not hard to see why Mixon gained some weight.
But, running against NFL-caliber defenders requires both finesse and power, which Mixon has in spades. And dropping the weight seems to be exactly what he needed to get back to feeling at the top of his game.
“Once I was able to get to playing speed and my weight down, I started feeling a lot better and moving better,” Mixon said. “Everything is starting to slow down a lot for me.”
‘Slowing down’ is the phenomenon young players talk about when the NFL game starts to click for them and everything starts to get easier. There will still be plenty of hurdles for Mixon to overcome as his young career develops, but the first step is to become great on the practice fields.
The next step for Mixon is to prove to the Bengals he is ready to be thrown into game situations, and eventually that he deserves to be given more and more playing time. Mixon’s goals will morph from proving himself as a player, to proving himself as a starter. After all, the Bengals brought him in to inject talent into a running back position that has become stale. For a short time, it looked like the combination of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard would become one of the best young running back tandems in the NFL. But with Hill’s ineffectiveness, there’s room for a new starter in the lineup.
“Shoot, at the end of the day, we all go out there and compete,” Mixon said. “I’ve got something to prove, so I’m going out there each and every day doing whatever I could to separate myself. When it’s all said and done I’m sure they’ll go with whoever they feel is ready.”
At the moment, Hill is the incumbent starter at running back. Although, Bernard has been much more consistent and has the experience to back it up. Mixon’s talent puts him right in the mix in the position battle, and he’s poised to be the long-term solution at the starting spot. Maintaining an optimal build for the position would certainly go a long way toward helping him realize that goal.