Those who haven’t owned Joe Mixon the previous two years are probably glad they didn’t and those who did probably have some sort of sour taste in their mouths, having to put up with Mixon’s inconsistencies, inefficiency and injuries both in 2019 and 2020. However, despite his previous shortcomings, Mixon is someone I’m targeting heavily in drafts for fantasy football 2021.
All signs point to Mixon returning to, and even bettering, his form in 2018 when he led the AFC in rushing and finished as a top 10 fantasy running back.
There’s definitely a negative connotation surrounding Joe Mixon’s name in fantasy circles and that can be debated every year, but as a real life football player, people seem to forget how talented this guy is.
As a starter for the Bengals Mixon has put up, or been on pace to put up (only played 6 games in 2020), more than 1,400 yards and 8 TDs in all three years, despite the atrocity of an offensive line he’s had to run behind in most of these games. If we take a look at Mixon’s Relative Athletic Score (RAS), he scores a 9.46/10, has “great” composite size and speed grades and “good” composite explosion and agility grades. Mixon is no slouch.
When it comes to fantasy there’s a misconception surrounding Mixon’s production. While yes, he hasn’t been a joy to own, he has, overall, produced relatively well while on the field.
It wasn’t until his sophomore year in the ;league when Mixon became the workhorse for the Bengals and since then, he’s finished as the RB10 (2018), RB13 (2019) and the RB9 (2020, only counting weeks 1-6 when he was healthy.)
Now I recognize that it hasn’t been all smooth sailing considering the inconsistencies and injuries he’s had, but the improvements that the Bengals have made on offense this offseason should help fix these things.
To be clear, Mixon is not injury prone. Before last season, he’d only missed 4 total games in his NFL career. Last season’s injury isn’t something to worry about either going into 2021 as it should be fully healed with very little risk of reinjury according to @fantasydocs on Instagram.
As for his inconsistencies, the Bengals have done a decent job setting Mixon up to succeed the past few months. Offensive line improvements include Jonah Williams coming back from injury, Jackson Carman, the guard out of Clemson, being drafted in the 2nd round and verteran tackle Riley Reiff being signed in free agency. The line still isn’t where we’d ideally like it to be for Mixon but it is certainly a step up from years past. Not to mention the fact that the Bengals have hired Frank Pollack as offensive line coach and run game coordinator, the same guy who held this position in Mixon’s best season of his career, 2018. Mixon has also voiced his support of Pollack in the past.
Another important addition to this team was Ja’Marr Chase, WR out of LSU, being picked at #5 overall in the draft. Adding Chase, an elite talent, to an already decent WR room basically guarantees that Mixon won’t be seeing stacked boxes very often anymore.
With defenses having to account for Chase, Higgins and Boyd while Burrow is slinging the rock, they just won’t be able to put 8+ guys in the box anymore which will open up running lanes for Mixon and allow him to be more efficient. With better efficiency comes consistency and with these offensive acquisitions, we won’t be seeing Mixon drop 6 or 8 points to go along with his blow up games.
When it comes to workload, there is no question as to whether Mixon will be highly involved. In 2019, Mixon had the 6th most carries in the league and in 2020, in weeks 1-6, he had the 2nd most, only behind Derrick Henry. Mixon was also getting more involved in the passing game in 2020, with the 11th most targets among RBs in the weeks he was healthy. In total, in weeks 1-6 last season, Mixon had the most touches of all RBs.
It is likely that the Bengals opt to pass A LOT next year but that shouldn’t affect Mixon’s workload as evidenced by last year. At the same time as Mixon was second in the league in rushing attempts, Burrow was leading the league in pass attempts. The truth is the Bengals run so many plays to the point where Mixon, because he controls the vast majority of carries in that backfield, can be near the top of the league in volume, alongside Burrow and the pass game.
Another important factor when it comes to Mixon’s workload is that it could theoretically increase from last year, specifically when it comes to his involvement in the air. Why? Pass blocking specialist Gio Bernard is now in Tampa Bay. Chris Evans and Samaje Perine aren’t anywhere near Gio when it comes to talent or experience in that department, so Mixon should soak up a majority of the 3.3 targets per game that Gio had during the time Mixon was on the field.
This isn’t just speculation either, there have been lots of encouraging reports regarding Mixon’s workload from beat reporters and the coaches themselves, including the Bengals offensive coordinator, Brian Callahan, saying he “doesn’t want Joe Mixon to leave the field.”
I know it’s hard to clear your head of previous bad experiences of Joe Mixon on your fantasy team or the great experiences of playing against him in the last couple years but it’s important to have a short memory in fantasy football and this is one of the prime examples of that.
It’s setting up to be a career year for Mixon with the workload, efficiency and consistency all coming together and the best part is, he’s cheaper in drafts than he has been in the past. He isn’t as cheap as he was at the beginning of the offseason as the hype surrounding him has grown but you can still get him, depending on the site, in the mid-late second round as a high RB2.
That is excellent value considering his top 13 performances when healthy in each of the last three seasons and the indications for improvement on that in 2021. Mixon is a smash pick in drafts right now and you should take advantage.