Joe Mixon is coming off an interesting rookie campaign. Many expected him to have a huge role in the Bengals offense after being drafted in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. It would also make sense that the team would want to show he was worth drafting that high after the Bengals took quite a PR hit to select him.
A year later Mixon has been a model citizen in Cincinnati, but his stats on the field were somewhat lacking. He played in 14 games, rushing for 626 yards and four touchdowns. He also caught 30 passes for an additional 287 yards. All of this while playing a hair under 40 percent of the Bengals’ offensive snaps. Entering his second season, it seems like the Bengals are ready to put more on his plate.
“When you’re a rookie back and being part of a backfield that had as many as three guys playing, some of the more intricate things went to the veterans because there are only so many reps,” Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “Then you get to a point, ‘This guy should be able to do it all.’ Whether it’s a multitude of runs, different specialty plays, the passing game, protections, running routes. If you’re as talented as we thought when we brought you in here and you’re a smart guy, let’s do it all. Let’s have all that stuff in the toolbox … I’m really excited for him.”
The way Lazor is talking, we should see Mixon more involved on passing downs, which was often deferred to Giovani Bernard last year. We should also see plenty of Mixon on the goal line without Jeremy Hill in town anymore.
Last season the only running back to take more snaps than Mixon was Giovani Bernard who was coming off an ACL injury, suffered the year before. Hill only ended up playing eight percent of the snaps before he was put on Injured Reserve. He has since left for New England in free agency. It seems though that Mixon’s expanded role has more to do with him earning it than anything else.
“His role will be expanded,” head coach Marvin Lewis said. “Joe has been great since the day he walked in this door. His effort, his energy. Now his sophomore year, he understands his attention to detail has to be better.”
Mixon should also have the pleasure of running behind an improved offensive line that has added left tackle Cordy Glenn and center Billy Price. The Bengals also brought in Frank Pollack to coach the offensive line, and the reviews so far has been stellar on him. This means Mixon hopefully won’t have to make guys miss in the backfield quite as often as in his rookie year.
As far as how the snaps may be distributed, we shouldn’t expect a huge change. If anything, expect Mixon to be the one getting 50 percent of the snaps while Bernard gets 40, and you can’t forget the Bengals will sprinkle in their fourth round rookie running back Mark Walton, too. We may also finally see the offense deploy two of their three running backs on the field at once to add some versatility to the offense.
Opening up the ways the team uses Mixon is really what they mean when they say he’ll have an expanded role. If Mixon hadn’t gotten injured late in the season he was easily on his way to taking more snaps than Bernard. However, the thought of him being used more on passing down and in different formations bodes well for the Bengals as a whole. It actually means opposing defenses will have a harder time telling whether it is a run or a pass if the Bengals trust Mixon out there to pass block just as much as run it.
2018 will hopefully be the season that Mixon finally gets to show why he was viewed as one of the most talented running backs in last year’s draft.