Here’s what Ben Linsey, the author of the piece, had to say about his ranking:
"Joe Mixon is returning from the lowest PFF grade of his career (65.3) in an injury-shortened 2020 season, but there are reasons for optimism heading into next year. The offensive line should be improved, and Mixon did earn PFF rushing grades of at least 74.0 in each of his first three NFL seasons.The loss of Giovani Bernard does make this a thinner group heading into next season. The Bengals will rely on Samaje Perine to spell Mixon, who did end last season with back-to-back 80.0 rushing grades in Week 16 and 17 for Cincinnati."
While Linsey had the Bengals ranked in the bottom half, their situation could be a lot worse. Mixon has shown to be a promising player at the position despite his rough 2020 campaign. Prior to that, he had back-to-back 1,100+ rushing yard seasons and had a whopping eight rushing touchdowns in the 2018 season.
The injury to Mixon last year definitely is cause for concern because typically, once a running back gets dinged up once, it’s a consistent trend from there. If Mixon bounces back to his 2018 and 2019 forms, the Bengals offense will be in even better shape this year.
If, however, he gets injured, there’s decent depth behind him on the depth chart, even without Giovani Bernard. Samaje Perine was a serviceable backup last year, rushing for 301 yards and three touchdowns through 16 games. The Bengals also drafted Chris Evans in the sixth round and have a promising UDFA out of Pooka Williams.
The Cincinnati Bengals’ running back situation has its flaws but it could be worse.
As long as Mixon stays healthy, the Bengals don’t have much to worry about at running back. He was a monster on the gridiron in his second and third years in the league but the injuries aren’t something to brush off. Luckily, Perine is a good backup to have and could step in and do damage if called upon.
Evans never really had much production at Michigan but there’s a lot of hype surrounding him. He might not get many opportunities this year if both Mixon and Perine are healthy but he could be an option to have as the backup or even the starter down the road.
As for the rest of the division, the Browns had the top-ranked running back unit on Linsey’s list. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are forces at the position and the Bengals’ lack of run defense is going to have a tough time slowing them down.
Surprisingly, the Ravens are No. 13 because Lamar Jackson isn’t considered a running back. He’s the reason Baltimore’s run game is so lethal but he didn’t count in this department.
The Steelers were ranked No. 24 after a dreadful season from their running backs. They drafted Najee Harris in the first round but his success hinges on how well the offensive line plays.
Will the Bengals’ running backs outperform their No. 20 ranking on this list?