Now entering his fifth season in the NFL, Joe Mixon will look to right the ship after an injury-plagued 2020 campaign. He has not quite lived up to his draft hype, but Cincinnati’s offensive environment has not done him any favors. Can Joe Mixon make the jump up the fantasy football draft rankings this season?
Fantasy Football Player Previews: Joe Mixon
Joe Mixon’s Production Profile
Prior to his injury-riddled 2020 campaign, Mixon notched back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Mixon’s best season came in 2018. He rushed for 1,168 yards and eight touchdowns while adding 43 receptions. The Bengals finished 6-10 that season, but Mixon produced, nonetheless.
However, 2019 looked a little different. The Bengals finished 2-14, and struggles trickled down to Mixon. Despite carrying the ball 41 more times, Mixon finished with 1,137 yards and five touchdowns. He suffered from horrendous offensive line play and an inefficient offense and struggled to translate opportunity into production.
2020 looked better at first glance. Mixon carried 119 times for 428 yards and three touchdowns. He also added 21 receptions in his six games played. However, Mixon’s body crumbled under the increased workload. After six games Mixon missed the rest of the 2020 campaign with a foot injury.
Opportunity & Efficiency
From an opportunity perspective, Mixon’s brief 2020 season presented a step in the right direction. He previously ceded work to Giovani Bernard, but his opportunities per game (carries plus targets) jumped 24.2. In his healthy games Mixon handled 90.1% of the carries and 56.5% of the running back targets. In total Mixon saw 10.9% of the Bengals targets.
From an efficiency perspective, Mixon’s numbers declined in 2020. His 2.55 yards after contact per attempt and 14 missed tackles were a step back from his 2019 numbers. In 2019 Mixon recorded 877 yards after contact, averaging 3.15 per attempt. Also forcing 52 missed tackles, Mixon’s limited production fell mostly on putrid offensive line play. Mixon’s 2020 number may be attributed to similar poor offensive line play or even a small sample of six games. At this point it is hard to tell.
2021 Fantasy Football Expectations
On top of Mixon’s contractual investment, the Bengals continue to indirectly invest in him. This offseason they let Bernard walk in free agency. They head into the season with career journeyman Samaje Perine and sixth-round rookie Chris Evans behind Mixon. Outside of an unexpected step forward from a rotational player, Mixon’s opportunity should be unquestioned.
Cincinnati also continues to improve on offense. After their 2-14 season in 2019, the Bengals jumped to 4-11-1 last year. Joe Burrow also went down in Week 11, complicating matters. Burrow expects to return this year, and the Bengals have made upgrades around him, adding Ja’Marr Chase in the top five of the NFL Draft and investing in the offensive line. The Bengals brought in Riley Reiff through free agency and Jackson Carman in the second round of the NFL Draft.
Finally, head coach Zac Taylor enters his third season. Last year Taylor had little time to integrate Burrow into an evolving offense due to a shortened offseason. While Cincinnati finished 13th in pass rate and plays per game last year, Taylor has shown signs of wanting to play uptempo, pass-first football. The entire Bengals offense could take a step forward in 2021.
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While Mixon has not produced at the same level as the top five backs, he should have every opportunity to enter that conversation. With Bernard departing, Mixon’s workload is unchallenged. However, the main concern is still overall efficiency from a rebuilding team. Even with a step forward, will that be enough to challenge for top-five running back status?
Cincinnati projects for 6.5 wins across sportsbooks, but Mixon provides an elite workload. Mixon comes off the board at pick 15.7 on Underdog Fantasy, just behind Cam Akers, Austin Ekeler, Nick Chubb and Aaron Jones. Each of these backs project to cede work to complementary backs to some degree. If everything falls into place for Mixon, there is a case that he is the most underrated player in the first two rounds of fantasy drafts.
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