Joe Mixon has been one of the biggest storylines of the Cincinnati Bengals’ offseason.
The talented running back will continue to be in the headlines for the coming weeks and possibly months as he works to earn his spot as the bell-cow back in an offense primed for big things in 2017. In the open field, Mixon is electrifying and very hard for one man to bring down. His ability to burst so quickly from the first to third level and dance around defenders makes him a home-run threat every time he touches the ball.
Last season with Oklahoma, Mixon recorded 1,274 rushing yards, 6.8 yards per carry and 10 rushing touchdowns. But Mixon isn’t some boom or bust back who relies solely on big plays. He isn’t afraid to power through defenders when necessary and methodically punish defenses. Mixon can even burn defenses as a pass-catcher, highlighted by his 538 receiving yards at 14.5 yards per catch and five touchdowns on 37 catches in 2016.
In 2014, Mixon reached an Alford plea on a misdemeanor assault charge. Video later emerged showing Mixon punching a woman in the face. The Alford plea allows him to maintain his innocence while admitting the prosecution has enough evidence to convict. He received a one-year deferred sentence, 100 hours of community service, and mandated behavioral counseling. He was suspended for the 2014 season.
Mixon would have been a first-round pick and potentially the top running back prospect in the draft if not for what happened in 2014. But no one can wipe away the stain of Mixon’s transgression, which is why the Bengals were able to snag him in the middle of Round 2.
Mixon’s past is not lost on the Bengals, including owner Mike Brown. Almost every public discussion the team has had about Mixon has included some reference to that 2014 incident, which allegedly had NFL teams taking Mixon off their draft board completely.
However, Brown and the Bengals’ coaches did far and away as much research into a player as any NFL franchise did with any prospect this year. That’s why they were willing to spend a high draft pick on Mixon, and that’s why Brown is confident the past is in the past and not something that represents what Mixon will do going forward.
"He's a young guy. He turned 21 [on Monday]. The incident that he was involved in was three years ago," Brown said on Tuesday, via ESPN. "He made a terrible mistake. He struck a young woman. He hurt her badly. It was a reflexive action in my mind, when I see the tape of it. I just think he acted without thought. But it was a terrible result."
Offensive coordinator Ken Zampese is also happy with what Mixon brings to the Bengals and isn’t focusing on his past, but instead looking toward the future.
"He is a really good piece to add where we got him," Zampese said. "l really like, more important than his skill set, is his personality. The kind of kid he is. His demeanor. There’s so much potential for him and how he fits into the community we have here in the locker room...
"All those physical things will happen once we get him in sync with everybody and all the relationships built and then we’ll get all the package of that guy.”
This isn’t the first time Brown, Zampese or someone associated with the Bengals has publicly supported Mixon with great confidence. It’s become evident the Bengals truly believe Mixon has grown and is ready to move on with his life as a member of the team. It’s up to him to keep proving the organization right while looking to lead this Bengals offense back to winning football games.