With sleeper real life teams comes sleeper options for you fantasy football teams. The Bengals poise to be one of the more enticing sleepers in the NFL this year, but Joe Mixon is no such thing when it comes to fantasy.
Entering his third year with Cincinnati at just 23 years of age, Jeff Ratcliffe of Pro Football Focus pegged Mixon as a player who can jump into the elite tier of running backs:
Following a rookie season where he averaged just 3.4 yards per carry, we saw significant improvement out of Mixon from an efficiency standpoint. The Bengals back bumped that number up to an impressive 5.0 and also saw his workload increase to just under 20 touches per game. That’s bell cow territory, which is rare in today’s NFL.
Unfortunately, the overall state of the Bengals’ offense put a cap on Mixon’s upside last year. That has the potential to change in 2019 with the new coaching regime in place under head coach Zac Taylor. As a Sean McVay protégé, expect to see similar things out of the Bengals that we’ve seen from the Rams. That means Mixon will likely be put in a position to succeed from the gate. Mixon still comes with some volatility, but he has the potential to jump up a tier if things break the right way this year.
The thought process is pretty easy to follow. New head coach, Zac Taylor, is coming from a Rams’ team that just had Todd Gurley touch the ball 315 times during the regular season. Gurley was easily one of the most dominant fantasy players last year until he went down near the end of the season with a knee injury, but that is a good transition into playing devil’s advocate to that point.
Taylor witnessed firsthand how hard it is to win a big game when the motor to your offense simply isn’t right. He finds himself in a similar situation in Cincinnati with Mixon. Andy Dalton is a capable quarterback when he has a running game going along with enough weapons around him, so keeping Mixon fresh for the entire season a big part of this upcoming season. Preserving Mixon for a possible playoff push is something that Taylor even emphasized when he arrived. That is great for Bengals fans, but not as great for fantasy owners.
Even with all of that said, Ratcliffe is still absolutely right. We should see a bump in Mixon’s numbers this season. A huge area that will be improved is in the passing game. The past two seasons Gurley has caught 123 passes for over 1,300 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. The two years before, Gurley had 64 catches for just over 500 yards without a single receiving touchdown. Mixon could see a similar boost as his first two seasons he has only caught 73 passes for just about 600 yards and a single touchdown.
We also shouldn’t have to worry about the Bengals completely going away from the running game as soon as they fall behind by a couple of scores. Mixon had seven games where he carried the ball fewer than 15 times in 2018. Gurley only had four such games, and two of them came in Weeks 13 and 14 before he was shutdown for the rest of the regular season with his knee injury.
Mixon also won’t be forced to run behind Alex Redmond anymore, and if Bobby Hart doesn’t pan out after another coaching change, we can hope this coaching staff won’t be as stubborn to not try and shuffle up the offensive line. Either way, the *hopeful* addition of Jonah Williams at left tackle and John Miller at right guard promotes the unit from dreadful to below average. In case you need a reminder, Mixon did lead the AFC in rushing yards last season, and did so in 14 games behind that dreadful line.
Bengals fans already knew to expect a huge year from Mixon in 2019, but now fantasy owners across the country will probably make him a trendy selection in drafts this summer as well.