Joe Mixon Will Be a Sophomore Stud (Fantasy Football)
In the fantasy football community, a stud is universally known as a player who dominates his position. He is a player who is expected to meet or beat his high ADP ranking. He is put in an ideal situation and is set up for success.
Running backs Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliot, Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, and Saquon Barkley are expected to be studs this year, as they are being drafted in the first round in redraft leagues. Leonard Fournette, Melvin Gordon, and Dalvin Cook are also in the stud conversation but come with some caveats, and therefore tend to be drafted in the second round in redraft leagues. It is always the goal for every fantasy football analyst to find the player that is ranked much lower, but greatly exceeds his draft capital.
Last year, there were so many rookie running backs that hit the ground running. Kareem Hunt started the season with a bang and ended up being the league’s top rusher. Alvin Kamara was a revelation as both a runner and receiver due to his insane efficiency. Dalvin Cook was explosive before succumbing to a season injury. Leonard Fournette was solid throughout, and Christian McCaffery made up for his lack of running production by catching 80 passes.
Compared to those running backs that were selected before and after him, Joe Mixon was a huge disappointment. Despite having a dismal 3.5 yards per carry last year, things are looking up for Mixon in many ways. Although he does not have a flattering ADP, he has all the makings of being one of this year’s surprise studs.
Not Your Average Joe in College
There are many things that make Joe Mixon so appealing. First of all, he is built like a complete, dominating back. He is taller than average, standing at six feet, one inches. He’s big, weighing in at 228 pounds. He is built similarly to Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, and Todd Gurley, the three most complete backs in the league. Like them, Mixon can run between the tackles and has great hands need for a prolific receiving back.
During his final year at Oklahoma, Mixon was a terror on the field. He rushed for 1,274 yards on just 187 attempts, yielding an average of 6.8 yards per carry. As a receiver, he had an impressive 37 receptions, racking up another 538 yards, for an astounding average of 14.8 yards. Many scouts considered him to be the best back coming out of college in 2017.
His draft stock fell because of a domestic incident that happened three years earlier when he punched a woman at a restaurant. Despite his infamy, the Bengals decided to take a chance on Mixon and drafted him in the second round of last year’s NFL rookie draft.
Cincy Measures Well Athletically
Joe Mixon’s athletic profile is very impressive. He ran a 4.50 at his Pro Day, which for his size translates to a 111.2 speed score on Player Profiler, placing him in the 92nd-percentile. He has average burst and agility and has a Nike SPARQ-x score in the 75th-percentile, which takes speed, agility, power, reaction, and quickness and puts it into one complete metric. Along with his efficient college production, Mixon’s athletic profile is impressive.
Later Rather than Sooner in 2017
Although Joe Mixon did not end up posting stellar stats, he did improve his efficiency after Jeremy Hill went down with an ankle jury in Week 9. It just so happens that the Cincinnati o-line, which was deplorable during the first half of the season, started to gel and become more respectable.
In fact, according to numberFire, the Bengals o-line had a rushing success rate of 33.5% for the first eight games, while improving to 42.3% for the final eight. This allowed Mixon to find more alleyways to exploit defenses. Here’s a table illustrating how well Mixon did with Jeremy Hill compared to how he fared after Hill was put on injured reserve.
Joe Mixon’s Rushing Stats in 2017
|Nine games split with Jeremy Hill||107||11.9||321||3||3|
|Five games as a starter without Jeremy Hill||71||14.2||305||4.3||1|
This clearly shows that as the season wore on, Mixon got better. As the lead back, he was more productive and efficient.
Now that Jeremy Hill has departed for the New England, Mixon only has competition in the form of Giovani Bernard and recently drafted rookie Mark Walton. Both are built like third-down satellite backs. Mixon is the only true three-down back left on the team, which means more guaranteed touches.
Mixon Up the O-line for a Better 2018
During this offseason, the Bengals were busy trying to improve their offensive line. The first thing they did was acquire OT Cordy Glenn, by trading down nine spots in the first round of the rookie draft.
Glenn’s 2017 season was plagued by foot and ankle injuries, only playing six games before being placed on injured reserve. Glenn is in his seventh year and was not an injury concern until two years ago. In the past two years, Glenn has missed 15 games despite being ranked as one of the top 20 offensive linemen last year. If he can stay healthy this year, he is an upgrade.
In addition, Cincinnati drafted center Billy Price as the 21st overall pick in this year’s draft. Furthermore, they drafted Ole Miss guard, Rod Taylor in the seventh round. He is a versatile lineman who can also play tackle.
If these three additions can somehow live up to their potential, the Bengals can have a run-blocking unit that will go from abysmal to average, at worst. Average is all Mixon needs to succeed.
The Melvin Gordon Corollary
The exciting news coming out of Cincinnati is they are not deterred by 2017 and intend on using Mixon more in his sophomore year. I see him going down a similar path as Melvin Gordon. Gordon was ineffective in his first year with the then San Diego Chargers, posting up anemic numbers. However, in his second year, he carried the ball 70 more times, increased his yards per carry by almost half a yard and scored 10 more touchdowns. He also had more receptions and was much more efficient as a pass catcher.
Mixon seems to have the trust of his team to do the same. If he can carry the ball 250 times and have a similar yards per carry average as he did going down the stretch last year, then he can eclipse 1,000 yards.
He was seldom used in the red zone last year. According to Player Profiler, he averaged only 1.9 red zone touches per game, which was 21st in the league. Even worse, he only saw four goal-line carries in total, which was 29th. The Bengals offense was abhorrent last year, averaging only 280.5 yards per game, which was the worst in the entire league.
With a better o-line, a healthy John Ross, a healthy Tyler Eifert, and a few additional rookie signings to help take the pressure off of starlet A.J. Green, the offense has no choice but to take a step forward. And with improvement, you know Joe Mixon is going to get his share of touchdowns. Look for him to ascend like Gordon did in his second year, and perhaps expect even more, since he is more talented than Gordon.
How Now Bell Cow?
Even before Jeremy Hill’s departure, ESPN reported that Mixon was going to be Cincinnati’s bell cow for 2018. At the moment, according to FantasyPros’ consensus draft rankings based on 44 fantasy football experts, Joe Mixon is the 16th ranked running back. He is behind Dalvin Cook, LeSean McCoy, Devonta Freeman, Jordan Howard, Christian McCaffrey, and Jerick McKinnon. There can be a case made for Mixon to go ahead of all of them.
Cook is coming back from a serious injury and might not get all the goal line work. McCoy is past his prime and is on a lousy offense. Freeman shares a backfield with the equally talented Tevin Coleman. Howard is a goal-line grinder but not a pass catcher, while McCaffrey is his inverse. As for McKinnon, the jury is still out whether or not he can be a true workhorse.
As it stands, Mixon is being undervalued based on his 2017 season rather than his potential for 2018. Since he is falling below running backs that do not offer his upside, he is currently a great value and should be scooped up without hesitation.