The Bengals backfield has been much maligned over the past three years. Is it possible the addition of Joe Mixon has made them one of the NFL’s best?
For the past several years, the Bengals running back situation has been a question. Giovani Bernard had shown promise before injuries slowed him down, Jeremy Hill never quite blossomed into a lead back, Rex Burkhead showed flashes of brilliance but now plays in New England.
This uncertainty was what prompted the Bengals to go running back in the second round and nab Joe Mixon. If Mixon is truly as good as some people expect him to be, the Bengals backfield may have gone from maligned to one of the best in the league.
What They Have
Gio started out his career with a bang tallying over 1,000 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns. Since then, he has had two more seasons with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and just one where he didn’t meet that mark. Fans may have forgotten about Bernard since he missed six games in 2016 with injuries. While he hasn’t shown the ability to be an every-down back, Gio is good on passing downs as he is a capable and elusive receiver. If rested and healthy, he could provide some explosive plays as a change of pace back.
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Much like Bernard, Hill started out his career extremely well. He burst onto the scene in 2014 with 1,124 rushing yards, nine touchdowns, and a whopping 5.1 yards per carry. Since then, his touchdown totals have remained consistent but his yardage totals have dropped below 1,000 per season.
In addition, his yards per carry in 2015 and 2016 have lessened to an average of 3.7. In 2016 he only averaged 55.9 yards per game even with his counterpart Bernard missing six games. Hill hasn’t developed into the dynamic rusher that he was expected to become. However, he still has a chance to prove himself and be a valuable asset to the team in 2017. While not spectacular, he is solid and many teams would love to have a running back like him on their roster.
Many know Mixon as the player involved in a troubling assault case that got captured on video. Since then, he has been working on putting that time in his life behind him and focusing on football. Luckily for the Bengals, the incident probably played a large part in his fall to the second round. Some experts have said that Mixon is the best running back in the draft and compared him to another Oklahoma Sooners running back: Adrian Peterson. Knowing how much a player like Ezekiel Elliott impacted the Cowboys last year, it’s hard not to get excited about having a tough, physical runner on the roster. Much of the Bengals’ rushing success depends on if Mixon really is as good as some people think.
Are They The Best in The League?
Without seeing how good Mixon really is, it would be hard to assert the Bengals have the best set of running backs right now. Teams like the Cowboys with Ezekiel Elliot and Darren McFadden and the Falcons with the likes of Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman have more proven runners as it stands right now. Even the Vikings with Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook could be in the mix for this discussion, depending on how Cook pans out. Don’t be surprised if the Bengals are in the mix for this title midway through the season.
What It Means
The running game has always been an integral part of championship football teams. In the age of passing, some of the best teams are those that can move the ball on the ground. The Bengals have a nice history of solid running backs stretching back to Ickey Woods and picking up with Corey Dillon and Rudi Johnson. They do not yet have one true lead back, but what they do have is a nice mix of abilities. Mixon and Hill will most likely split early carries and Bernard will help out on third downs. It doesn’t matter which team it is, having Bernard as a third-string back is a great situation to be in.
Hopefully, the Bengals may finally have found a combination of running backs to take them to the next level. Only time will tell, but this will be something worth keeping an eye on this season. They may not be the best in the league yet, but they could be soon.