Having a veteran running back like Joe Mixon can give a team a warm fuzzy feeling. Like a “wooby” or a “binky” that you know will always make it better. Something to rely on and keep you safe. A nice and comforting feeling.
After some recent legal troubles surfaced, many thought that warm, fuzzy feeling would be gone. It seemed as if the Bengals would need to address getting a more established backup running back or draft one of the talented rookies. Instead, the Bengals didn’t make any moves in free agency and waited to draft a running back until the fifth round.
What does this mean for Mixon, and what is his outlook in 2023?
As a Bengals fan and a fan of Mixon, I was actually a little surprised at how pedestrian his numbers have been throughout his career. I’ve always felt like he was a good back and was a player we didn’t need to worry about.
In 2018 and 2021, he was amongst the top back due to touchdowns, and he’s been a reliable pass-catching option every game he’s on the field. Mixon missed a chunk of 2020 but has been reliable otherwise. He’s only averaged 4.1 YPC over his career and only exceeded that average during the 2018 season.
While he’s been a reliable pass-catcher, his average and scores from receptions have never been impressive either. Mixon has been steady and never a “liability,” but I was a tad bit surprised by how his numbers looked when taking a view from 30,000 feet.
The legal case could impact this season, but the charges have to stick for an NFL suspension. It’s hard to say exactly what kind of suspension he would get, but precedence says it could be as much as six games. Let’s look at what the season would be like if he played all 17 games.
Entering his age-27 season, Mixon is right at the precipice of the fall-off point most running backs face. Like the yodeler on Price is Right, Mixon is rapidly approaching the cliff. The Bengals made a few moves to address the offensive line, signing Orlando Brown being the biggest one. The line is improved, and the dangerous passing game gives the running backs room to roam.
In the early half of the season, the Bengals face an up-and-down schedule as far as rushing team defenses go. The Ravens, Titans, and 49ers were the top three defenses versus the ground game, and they face each team in the first seven weeks. But they also face the Browns, Seahawks, and Texans early – each team in the bottom ten.
It’s tough to want to start Mixon in harder matchups due to inefficiency, and you are praying for a touchdown and receptions. But you may need to start him due to his cost and what you likely have invested in him. The days of him being a locked and loaded RB1 are quickly fading.
The Depth Chart
Rookie Chase Brown is the most likely back to emerge as the second back. He’s a quick back but a hair on the small side. He was wildly productive last season at Illinois and could be interesting. I don’t see Brown as a three-down back, but he would be a valuable part of a committee if Mixon misses time.
Trayveon Williams has been on the team for a few years and has filled in when needed but isn’t someone to rely on. He’s only had 55 touches over four seasons and hasn’t scored a touchdown.
I could see Brown and Williams getting the first two downs for work and Chris Evans being primarily the third-down option – if it comes down to it. Evans had 15 receptions in 2021 but rarely saw the field in 2022.
The depth chart drops rapidly after Mixon, and the Bengals would likely explore free agency if Mixon misses extended time. Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, and Kareem Hunt highlight the list of backs still lurking in free agency.
If you are in contention and need a running back, Mixon should be a target, and his value isn’t crazy right now. Most people see the cliff coming and want to get out before it’s too late.
Here are a couple of trades I found that feature Mixon; these are all pretty recent as well.
Our team recently identified Joe Mixon as a buy as well!
If you aren’t locked in and 100% competing for a championship, Mixon is a must-move asset. He’s reaching that dreaded cliff and his value is only going to drop after this season. It could hit the floor if he’s suspended. If I can get a starting running back with a 2024 second-round pick, I am doing that all day.
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