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2023 Bengals Position Preview: Running Backs

Joe Mixon is RB1, but who steps up behind him?

NFL: Preseason-Cincinnati Bengals at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The conversation about the Cincinnati Bengals offensive line always centers around protecting Joe Burrow, but recent improvements could lead to a big season for Joe Mixon in 2023.


  • Samaje Perine

Key Additions:

The Cast

After taking a pay cut in hopes of winning a Super Bowl, Joe Mixon returns as the primary back for the Bengals offense. Mixon had some flashes of brilliance last season, but the offensive line struggles impacted his overall production. Now, with the addition of Orlando Brown to the starting unit and the transition to gap-blocking schemes, this could be a great year for Mixon.

With the departure of Samaje Perine, big things were expected of Trayveon Williams. Unfortunately, due to an ankle injury, Williams hasn’t gotten the chance to show what he can do. Williams shows great promise as a stereotypical third-down-back. He has excellent hands and has shown the ability to pass-protect effectively in limited NFL exposure. Hopefully, the professor will be back to 100% and able to demonstrate his ability early this season.

The injury to Williams created an opportunity for Chris Evans. Evans is a fan favorite, but he has not earned the trust of the coaching staff. He would drop a ball or miss a block and disappear for the rest of the game.

By the end of the year, he was often a healthy scratch. This preseason he has looked impressive in pass protection and made some nice plays as a receiver as well. If he could step into the role of third-down-back, he would bring a more dynamic presence than they have had since Giovani Bernard. He has also stood out in various roles on special teams, particularly in kick coverage, increasing the likelihood that he will be active throughout the season.

The Bengals drafted Chase Brown in the fifth round this season. Like Evans, he hasn’t gotten much going on the ground in the preseason, but in the passing game, he has shown he can be dynamic after the catch. Brown projects as a nice change-up back who can spell Mixon from time to time, but that isn’t enough to get him on the active roster. While it will take time for him to develop as a pass blocker, there is another of Perine’s roles that could fit Brown nicely: short-yardage power back.

After their first preseason game, Zac Taylor was quick to point out the two third-and-short runs that Brown converted into first downs. Brown was also the first Bengal to score a preseason touchdown as he converted a goal-line run into points in their second game.

Is this valuable enough for him to be active on game day?

2023 Outlook

The Bengals have struggled to run the ball so far in the preseason, but this has been without Joe Mixon, their starting offensive line, and the threat of Joe Burrow throwing the ball to his vast arsenal of pass-catchers.

The team goes into the season with an established run-game identity and the best offensive line they have had in years. Newcomer Orlando Brown can open up some big holes, and his neighbor Cordell Volson, has added bulk and experience in the last year. While the team will lean on Burrow and the passing game, they could be much more productive in the run game this season.

There is a good chance that all four of the players discussed will make the final roster, but likely only three of them will be active on game day. That is the bigger question. Who can contribute in a big enough way to make justify a spot on the gameday roster?

Williams and Evans are battling for the passing-down back role, which would appear to make the battle between the two of them, but in the immortal words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friends.” Williams played a large role on special teams last season, and Evans flashed on special teams this preseason. There is room for both to dress for the game if they are contributing on special teams.

Chase Brown could be the short-yardage back and a change-up to Mixon, but if he can’t carve out a role on special teams, that might not be enough for him to suit up on Sundays. Ironically, I could see a scenario where Mixon gets hurt and misses a game, and Brown becomes the starter after being inactive the previous week.

The Future

Mixon reworked his contract in order to stay in Cincinnati, but he is still set to become a free agent in 2025.

Brown was an extremely productive college back who could develop the versatility to be a three-down player and potential replacement for Mixon. Williams and Evans are a little different, but their skill sets as passing down backs may be a better fit for this offense over the long term.

There is a lot of talent in this group. It is just a matter of how the Bengals feel they need to deploy it in order to be most productive.