Joe Mixon in fantasy football. It’s a DIVISIVE topic. The slanderous labels rain down upon him from all angles and some of them may be justified. Injury prone. Poor character. Overrated. Bad organization. Split backfield. Those who have drafted him in the past and have been burned by his lack of fantasy production may be hesitant to do so again. I’ve reached for that stove in the past and felt the searing hot pains of those orange Cincinnati flames myself. Yet, I’m here now to tell you why I’m going back in on Joe Mixon this year and why you should too.
You know what the funny thing about Joe Mixon is? No one ever really says Joe Mixon is bad. And that’s because he honestly hasn’t been. In fact, despite poor play from his team and injuries he’s sustained, he graded out as RB11 and RB10 in his first two seasons in the league per PPF. In 2019, in his one fully healthy season, he had the fifth most broken tackles on run plays and the sixth most yards after contact. When you look at the rushing statistics independent of offensive line play, Mixon has been -- dare I say it -- GOOD.
What about all those other ancillary issues that plague running backs? Well, over his last 36 games, he has fumbled ONE time. In fact, in the 30 games he played from 2018 to 2019, he didn’t fumble a single time. That’s 593 touches without fumbling. One fumble over the last three seasons compared to someone like Chris Carson who has fumbled 11 times over his last three seasons. And Mixon also rarely gets penalties - in three of his four seasons, he didn’t get called for a single penalty. Drops haven’t been an issue either.We tout Gio Bernard as this great pass catching back but he has a seven-percent career drop rate compared to 6.5% for Mixon. Dalvin Cook has a career drop rate of 9.8% and even the legendary Alvin Kamara (6.0%) and Saquon Barkley (5.7%) aren’t far off.
It’s not like we are talking about some aging running back where the wheels are soon to fall off. Joe Mixon is 24 years old. Najee Harris, the Steelers first-round pick and the current first-round pick in a lot of dynasty leagues, is 23 years old. If you want to say he came into the league young and has had a lot of touches then you probably should knock the 27-year old Derrick Henry or the 25-year old Ezekiel Elliott (though we already explained to you why that’s a bad idea). Or, if you want to say he’s injury prone, you must hate Dalvin Cook who is 25 just like Zeke, but has never played a full season since coming into the league. Personally, I’m not a fortune teller or a doctor, so I’m not going to try to tell you which 24-25 year old running backs are going to get hurt in 2021.
The Bengals offense has been bad during Joe Mixon ’s tenure. Especially the offensive line and quarterback play. There is no question about that. Everyone knows that they took a new stud quarterback first overall last season (who promptly got injured) and everyone knows that they have explosive pass catchers in Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd , and now Ja'Marr Chase to help move the ball. So let’s take a second to delve into the offensive line.
In 2019, the Bengals took steps to improve the OL by drafting left tackle Jonah Williams at 11 overall and also took left guard Michael Jordan. Neither one of them has played a full season in either year so far due to injuries. In fact, Jonah Williams missed all of 2019 and missed almost half the season again last year. Those two come back healthy. For good measure, they also drafted offensive tackle Jackson Carman in the second round and he's been working out at guard at OTAs so he should sure up at least one starting guard spot. Last season, C.J. Uzomah was slated to be the starting tight end and he missed the entire season with a torn achilles tendon. He rejoins the team this year. And their right tackle? Bobby Hart ? The 63rd graded tackle per PFF who also missed time last year? He is out and has been replaced with Riley Reiff who just spent last season as the left tackle blocking for Dalvin Cook . How did Dalvin Cook do?
In fact, if you look at the Bengals offensive line, not a single player played all 16 games last season. Just an absolute circus. And, on top of ALL THAT, Sports Illustrated’s Elise Jesse told us that the Bengals offensive line coach Jim Turner did an awful job so they gave him the boot and brought back offensive line coach Frank Pollack who is reportedly already correcting mistakes in technique from the previous coach. So how can you possibly compare last year’s offense to this one? It was a revolving door of offensive lineman with Brandon Allen and Ryan Finley at the helm for half the year. Now the line has two former first round picks playing offensive tackle and a No.1 overall pick at quarterback. It’s not the same team.
The obvious scheme issue up until this point has been that Giovani Bernard played on passing downs. The backfield was split so Mixon got the early down work and Bernard got the valuable passing down work. Well, Bernard was released and the offensive coordinator had this to say.
— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) May 5, 2021
Mixon isn’t necessarily out of the woods yet because the reports in past years were that the one knock on his game has been passing work. Specifically, issues with the pass protection scheme that can cause you to come off the field and miss out on check down opportunities. That said, in just six games last year, Mixon was on pace to play on 136 true passing down sets, get 61 targets, have 56 catches, and allow no pressures. All would have been career highs and that was while Bernard was there. Perhaps he was already on the path to a better workload.
The other side of the “scheme” coin are the people saying that the Bengals are going to be one of the more pass heavy offenses in the league. Their concern is that the offense will be good, but the defense should still be bad. To which I would remind people that, in the Zeke article, we pointed out that the Cowboys over the first five games of the season were on pace to SHATTER the pass attempt record and that, over that span, Zeke was the number two RB in the league in fantasy behind only Alvin Kamara . The Jaguars last year had a terrible defense AND a terrible offense, winning only one game, but that didn’t stop James Robinson from being an RB1 because the backfield was his. Typically in fantasy football, decent offense and bad defense means more offensive plays, more scoring, and more fantasy points. It’s only a bad thing if your running back comes off the field for pass plays, which, as we already discussed, is no longer the case for Mixon.
Let me tell you a quick story. In 2016, a team known as the Rams moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles and that team had a running back named Todd Gurley . Todd Gurley on this 2016 Rams offense received 321 touches but the offense was terrible so he still finished RB17 in fantasy football. Much like the hero of our story, the talent was there and Gurley’s yards after contact was good, but the contact was often happening well behind the line of scrimmage because the line was terrible. The surrounding talent on the team was anemic as well with Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin leading the team in targets. The following year, with an improved O-line, a second year QB, and a WR corps of Cooper Kupp , Robert Woods , and Sammy Watkins , the offense as a whole was A LOT better, and Todd Gurley , while getting a similar number of touches, was the RB1 overall in fantasy.
Funny how that happens?
P.S. this article is dedicated to the members of Ryan Hallam’s #FCEliminator as well as the memory of Jackson Pollock.