The Cincinnati Bengals are going to feature Joe Mixon this year, but fantasy owners haven’t caught up as he’s going late in drafts.
In his rookie season, Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon showed flashes of his elite talent. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, those flashes were few and far between. The combination of Marvin Lewis’ reluctance to play rookies, the offensive line’s horrendous year, and a steep learning curve in the NFL made Mixon’s first year a little rough from a fantasy perspective. Mixon did lead the Bengals in carries, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns, making him a valuable real-life running back.
However, Mixon only compiled 8.8 PPR fantasy points a game last season. While that’s a palatable number, that 8.8 points a game does not equate to RB1 or RB2 production. Mixon finished the season as the RB36 in PPR scoring, behind Jamaal Williams (meh) and ahead of Orleans Darkwa (yikes). In fairness, Mixon did only play 13 games, but he was still outside of RB2-level production.
That should all change this season. Pretty much every single inhibiting factor to Mixon’s success is in the rearview mirror. For one, he’s got a year of experience under his belt and should improve heading into his second season. Also, the Bengals have made massive improvements to the offensive line. The additions of Cordy Glenn and Billy Price should stabilize the line, and Frank Pollack (the architect of the Dallas offensive line) should institute some run-heavy blocking schemes. Lastly, Mixon seems to have the full trust of the coaching staff, and should not lose many carries to worse backs. Already, the staff has talked up Mixon as a “bell cow.”
Considering all that, Mixon is primed for a breakout. Now, there’s almost no way that Mixon doesn’t improve on last year’s production. He should see more carries, more catches, and at least match last year’s efficiency, if not improve upon it. Aside from injury, that would make Mixon’s floor a mid-tier RB2. Because of his situation and talent, I think it’s fair to say Mixon’s floor is very safe.
Mixon’s upside is also through the roof. If he sees 250 touches, which I think is a conservative estimate for his workload, he could quickly get in the RB1 conversation. Also improving his efficiency to the 4.0-5.0 yards per carry range will put him with the elite backs. Mixon’s greatest upside is his touchdown potential, though. He should see most of the goal-line touches, especially since there isn’t a more physical back on the roster.
If Mixon hits double-digit touchdowns – which is well within his potential – he will be a near-lock for a top ten finish. The lowest finish of any player who scored ten total touchdowns last year in PPR was Leonard Fournette. Fournette finished as the RB9 while missing two games. He also scored exactly ten touchdowns and had a yards per carry under 4.0. Mixon, on that workload with that level of scoring, profiles more as Mark Ingram, who finished as the RB6 in PPR. Clearly, Mixon’s upside in fantasy is limitless.
Even with this excellent profile for next year, Mixon still shouldn’t go in the first round. There is a very clear tier of elite running backs who have higher floors and ceilings than Mixon. Those players include Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliot, David Johnson, Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley, Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette and Melvin Gordon. Outside of them, though, I think Mixon should be the next running back off the board.
Currently, Mixon is going as the 26th player off the board and as the RB16. The RB16 is closer to Mixon’s floor than his ceiling, so this draft price represents a value. Between Mixon and the “elite” running backs in ADP are Dalvin Cook, Devonta Freeman, LeSean McCoy, Jordan Howard, Jerick McKinnon, and Christian McCaffrey. All of these guys are excellent backs, but for the most part, they have lower floors than Mixon with the same upside. Cook and McCoy have serious injury issues, while Freeman, Howard, and McKinnon don’t have guaranteed workloads. McCaffrey is the lone exception, but his inability to score touchdowns cap his upside. Mixon is an excellent value in fantasy drafts right now, and I would definitely take him starting in the second round.