Joe Mixon is impressive on tape, but difficult to write about. He’s already really good, but it just seems like he should, and could, be even better. Mixon stands at 6’1”, 225 pounds and he has most of the traits I desire in a modern three-down running back: quick feet, power, elusiveness, massive jump cuts, and great second level vision. He commonly runs with a patience that reminds me of Le’Veon Bell and has the ability to run the outside zone like Todd Gurley. However, as great as Mixon is, there are two things on tape that are holding him back from absolute stardom: First Level Vision and Long Speed. Don’t get me wrong, Mixon is already great. For most running backs, long speed is just icing on the cake (although for fantasy I tend to prefer the backs that can break a huge run and change your week in ten seconds), but his vision at the line of scrimmage is what worries me. I don’t think Mixon has bad vision, but he seems a bit too ambitious at times.
We’ll start with the good. Mixon has amazingly quick feet for his size. He frequently make extremely sudden moves in the backfield to compensate for Cincinnati’s porous offensive line:
That is an absolutely awesome move for someone Mixon’s size.
Mixon is also capable of amazing jump cuts that few backs in the league can pull off:
If you’ve read my other scouting profiles, you know that I love running back with jump cuts in their arsenal. The ability to change your gap and leave defenders grasping at air is rare, but can make the difference between a two yard loss and a twenty yard gain. It also typically conveys a running back’s explosiveness. There is an underlying athletic ability that you need to make a cut like that and Mixon has it.
The run against the Chiefs above also shows off Mixon’s dead leg juke. I love a good dead leg. It take true talent to stop all your sideways momentum with one step and quickly get back to full speed. The dead leg juke is one of the many similarities between Mixon and Le’Veon Bell. Here’s another one from Mixon before a Bell clip. The ability to plant that leg and change direction as he comes through the hole is phenomenal.
See that dead leg that left Erik Berry laying on his stomach? Absolutely phenomenal. And Mixon has that. Watch for that in the open field on Mixon’s other runs I show.
Now speaking of Le’Veon Bell, Mixon has a decent dose of that patented Patience. He doesn’t quite drink of cup of coffee in the backfield like Bell does, but he’s absolutely more patient than any other back I’ve watched. Let’s see some clips.
That two-footed stop behind the line of scrimmage? Patented Bell. Watch how he calmly picks his way through the defense on these next couple runs.
Mixon looks like he never reaches full speed, but he has super quick feet and is able to slowly pick his way through the defense. That takes some serious composure when there’s 250 pound linebackers trying to take your head off.
Strangely though, I don’t think the patient, composed runner is Mixon at his best. The outside zone is where he truly thrives. Check out my Gurley profile for a brief outside zone explanation and watch Gurley’s clips to compare to Mixon.
Those quick feet and his ability to plant his foot and get north-south looks pretty impressive in an outside zone scheme. Once he gets in the open field, good luck. He has the power and moves to run through or around anyone. The Bengals did not run much of outside zone this year, but Mixon was great when they did.
What’s that? Did the Bengals finally fire Marvin Lewis? They hired a Sean McVay disciple?!?
If Zac Taylor brings the outside zone to Cincinnati full time (most people expect him to), look out for Joe Mixon. He is capable of ripping off 20 yard gains like they’re nothing once he gets in the open field and that scheme specializes at getting running backs into space.
Mixon is also just as capable in short yardage as his size would suggest. This play was 3rd and 1. Mixon makes a great cut to hit the hole and he has exceptional leg drive to carry the defenders forward.
What about that “ambitious vision” I mentioned? I’m not even quite sure its a negative. It leads to a lot of his big plays. You can see it in this clip against the Chiefs:
Mixon has a pretty large hole between the Left Guard and the Center. #57 is into the backfield, but I think he could’ve made it through. If he does, then it’s only the safety keeping him from the endzone. Mixon is able to turn it into a positive play, but it took a hell of a lot more effort. Plays like this were fairly common on Mixon’s tape. It could be trouble in the outside zone if he’s unwilling to hit the hole when it opens up.
You can also see on the clips above that Mixon frequently gets caught from behind. His speed holds him back from making the 70 yard sprints that Barkley, Chubb and Gurley frequently rip off, but he gets going fast enough to consistently produce large gains.
As for receiving, Mixon is good, but still not in that upper tier that Bell, Kamara, and David Johnson occupy. I think he has the physical ability to join that group, but up to this point, the Bengals have not given him the opportunity. Giovani Bernard will still be in Cincy, so I don’t see Mixon’s pass catching role growing too much. That said, his ball skills are impressive. Check out this catch:
He gets his hands up late and snags the ball away from his body. Mixon has plenty of receiving potential and could become exceptional.
Mixon is already a great running back even though his offense was borderline dysfunctional last season. Could we see a Rams like emergence from the Bengals this year? I wouldn’t predict it, but it’s well within the realm of possibilities. Andy Dalton has proven he can lead a competent offense and was even an MVP candidate before getting hurt in 2015. I can’t predict Mixon’s situation, but I do know he has legit talent. Sign me up.
I’m slotting Mixon in at Number 6 in my True Talent Rankings. Right between Nick Chubb and Le’Veon Bell. Bell in his prime would be above Mixon, but if Bell lost a step in his season off, it could be disaster.