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Joe Mixon will serve as Bengals’ bell cow running back moving forward

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Mixon got off to a slow start in his rookie year but we should expect him to see the field a whole lot more moving forward.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Bengals running back Joe Mixon got off to a somewhat slow start to his NFL career. For some reason (allegedly an opportunity to learn from Jeremy Hill) Mixon didn’t start a game until Week 9 when Hill was injured.

The slow start was partly due to a lacking offensive line that prohibited the run game and partly due to minimal opportunities early on in the season. Mixon finished his rookie year with 626 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns on 178 attempts (3.5 yards per carry) as well 30 catches for 287 receiving yards.

“Joe really came on for us in the later part of the year, second half of the season,” Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin said on Wednesday at the Combine. “He’s going to be our bell cow running back. We are going to combine him with Gio (Bernard) and we really feel good about that position group.”

The Bengals also have Brian Hill, Jarveon Williams and Tra Carson on the roster at the running back position, making it seem like that position is relatively set heading into free agency and the 2018 NFL Draft. It’s possible the Bengals draft another running back, but it’s probably not a priority for the team after spending a second round pick on Mixon last year.

It’s nice to hear that Tobin projects Mixon to be the bell cow back we’ve thought he could be since the Bengals selected him it the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Many criticized how the Bengals were using him — or not using him enough, rather — last season, so it’ll be great to see what he can do with more opportunities and hopefully a much-improved offensive line.

“Joe played a much bigger role for us than John,” Tobin added at the combine, of course, referring to Bengals first round pick John Ross. “We’ve had a run here where our first-round picks are hurt. William Jackson bounced back this year and became what we thought he was but he missed his whole rookie season. John did not get off to the start he wanted. Injuries played a big part in that. We expect big things from him coming on in the future. He’s going to be a big part of what we do. But it’s hard to predict injuries. He got a slower start than what he wanted.”

Injuries unfortunately have been a major issue for Bengals first round picks in recent years, sometimes to the fault of the team and sometimes, in the case of Jackson, it being just bad luck.

Bengals first round picks and their rookie stats:

2017 - John Ross: 3 games (0 starts), 1 target, 0 catches, 1 rushing attempt for 12 yards (on which he lost a fumble); joined the Bengals with a shoulder injury that limited him in training camp and went on to deal with numerous other injuries during the preseason and regular season before ending up on Injured/Reserve.

2016 - William Jackson III: 0 games; tore his pectoral in training camp.

2015 - Cedric Ogbuehi: 5 games (0 starts); joined the Bengals while recovering from a torn ACL and started the season on the Non-Football Injury list.

2014 - Darqueze Dennard: 14 games (0 starts), 1 pass defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 sack, 16 tackles; missed games due to hip and ankle injuries.

2013 - Tyler Eifert: 15 starts, 39 catches for 445 yards, 2 touchdowns; only missed one game due to a stinger, which is the least action he’s missed in his now five-year NFL career.

So yeah, the Bengals have had a run of injured first round picks, partly due to drafting already injured players (Ross, Ogbuehi) and partly just due to misfortune (Eifert never had injury issues in college). Hopefully Ross bounces back like Jackson did this season and goes on to have a productive career worthy of a first round pick.