With the Cincinnati Bengals looking toward Week 1 against Cleveland after an interesting offseason for their running backs, a few big questions remain.
Samaje Perine left Cincinnati for the Broncos in free agency while young players with flashes of talent are vying for the RB2 spot. Although Joe Mixon is still the clear go-to guy in the Cincinnati backfield, let’s take a look at each player’s biggest question mark.
Can Joe Mixon be a consistent three-down back?
While one of Mixon’s legal issues has been resolved, the Bengals’ top running back talent is ready to hit the ground running come Week 1. Mixon no longer has a clear 1B to his 1A as Giovani Bernard and Samaje Perine, Cincinnati's third down-backs during Mixon’s time in the stripes, are no longer with the team. The competition behind Mixon is still unknown, but it looks like he’ll be in the backfield for all three downs to start the season.
However, even when Mixon was on the field last year, he struggled with consistency. Of the seven rushing touchdowns he scored, four of them came against the Panthers.
A concussion resulted in Mixon missing a couple of games as well, leaving him shy of the 1,000-yard rushing mark. With the road back to the AFC Championship being far from a yellow brick road, Mixon needs to be a consistent three-down back to maximize Cincinnati’s Super Bowl aspirations.
Will Trayveon Williams step up in a big way?
After being drafted in the sixth round in 2019, Williams is getting the biggest opportunity in his career with the Bengals to step up. Perine is gone and the backfield behind Mixon is murky. The Cincinnati coaches were raving about Williams this entire past offseason as a leader in the locker room and in the community.
Trayveon Williams did have an unfortunate ankle injury in early August, but his timetable should see his return for Week 1, and it feels that he’s finally getting his chance after being buried in the depth chart since 2019. If Williams can continue to impress when he recovers, he could see a role as a situational player and see meaningful snaps later in the season.
Can Chase Brown be RB2?
When the Cincinnati front office drafted Chase Brown in the fifth round out of the University of Illinois this past draft, it felt that he was immediately going to slot in as the backup running back. After a performance against Atlanta’s backups in the preseason, Brown only went for 18 yards on nine attempts.
Although he did stretch for a touchdown, the Bengals running back seemed to not have much explosive power.
The RB2 job appeared to be Brown’s to lose, but he might have to get it back. Even though he was playing behind a backup Bengals offensive line, he struggled to produce much yardage and was incredibly inefficient on the ground.
Due to playing five college seasons in addition to a red-shirt year, there was concern that Chase Brown didn’t have any tread left on his tires. That concern is looking like the reality for the Bengals’ running back who is now listed as the RB3 on the Bengals depth chart.
Will Chris Evans contribute?
Chris Evans was selected in the sixth round of the 2021 draft, and many Bengals fans saw him as the next Giovani Bernard. He is smaller and excels as a pass-catching back, nabbing two touchdowns in the air his rookie season. However, he did not record a single carry in 2022, which is unusual for the talent he possesses.
With Charlie Jones nursing an injury and Trent Taylor being a likely cut candidate, Evans could be the return man for the orange and black at the start of the season. In addition, the Bengals could learn something from the Chiefs and get the most out of a pass-catching specialist as Isiah Pacheco helped Kansas City move past Cincinnati and into the Super Bowl.
Evans’ spot on the roster could be in question if the Bengals decide to go lighter on running back and Evans would likely be the odd man out and destined for the practice squad. However, if he can contribute on special teams and in a pass-catching role, he could secure a spot on the final 53-man roster.