Why Bengals RB Joe Mixon Has Potential To Exceed His Fantasy Draft Capital In 2021
Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Joe Mixon
Editor’s note: The following analysis was written in June, but when coupled with the latest rankings and projections in our 2021 Fantasy Draft Kit, is still valuable research for your next draft.
Joe Mixon Fantasy Rankings
|Consensus rankings via Sean Koerner and Chris Raybon are based on half PPR scoring and as of early June.|
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Joe Mixon is, once again, a frustrating case for fantasy football.
The 24-year-old with sky-high potential is on the fringe of the RB1 conversation, but multiple seasons of disappointment and a recent major injury has many managers feeling justifiably gun-shy to draft Mixon in 2021.
Mixon’s 2020 Season
- Games played: 6
- Rushing: 119 attempts, 428 yards, 3 TDs
- Receiving: 26 targets, 21 catches, 138 yards, 1 TD
- Fantasy finishes: RB47 in PPR, RB49 in standard, RB47 in half PPR
Mixon is coming off an injury-shortened season. The foot injury he suffered in Week 6 meant he appeared in only six games, finishing with 119 attempts for 428 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught 21-of-26 targets for 138 yards and one touchdown and finished as the RB47 in half PPR scoring.
Prior to his injury, Mixon’s strong start to the year would have set career highs in almost every category. He was on a 16-game pace for 317 rushing attempts and 56 catches for 1,509 total scrimmage yards and 10.7 total touchdowns, which would have vaulted him into a top-four finish in fantasy behind only Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook and Derrick Henry in half PPR.
Previous Fantasy Performances
Mixon’s NFL career began mired in scandal.
The former five-star high school recruit declared for the 2017 draft after playing just two seasons at Oklahoma. In spite of being considered a first-round talent, he was not invited to participate in the NFL Combine, with many teams shying away from drafting him because of an assault charge.
Mixon was eventually selected by the Bengals in the second round and posted a lackluster 178 attempts for 626 yards, four touchdowns and 30 catches for 287 yards over 14 games in Year 1.
Following a disappointing rookie campaign, the former Sooner bounced back and posted career-highs in nearly every category despite dealing with a knee injury. He rushed 237 times for 1,168 yards and eight touchdowns and caught 43 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown over 14 games — good enough to finish as RB11 in half PPR.
Mixon posted his second-straight 1,000-rushing yard season in 2019 with 278 attempts for 1,137 yards and five touchdowns and 35 catches for 287 yards and three touchdowns. He appeared in all 16 games for the first and only time in his career and finished as RB16 in half PPR.
The Bengals inked Mixon to a four-year, $48 million extension days before the start of the 2020 season, which keeps him under contract through 2024.
Mixon’s 2021 Fantasy Outlook
Mixon is expected to return to full strength going into the 2021 season after missing 10 games due to injury. He had missed only four games over the prior three seasons and head coach Zac Taylor told the press in March that “[Mixon is] feeling really good right now.”
He enters the 2021 season in better standing and with less competition on the depth chart than in previous years. Cincinnati released pass-catching running back Giovani Bernard in April, leaving fellow Oklahoma back Samaje Perine and two sixth-round picks — Chris Evans and Trayveon Williams — as backups.
Bernard, 29, had 121 attempts for 409 yards and three touchdowns and caught 47 passes (11th among running backs) for 355 yards (12th among RBs) and three touchdowns over 15 appearances in 2021. His absence should open up significantly more targets for Mixon, which seems to be the Bengals’ plan for him moving forward and would bolster his value in PPR formats.
“Joe shouldn’t come off the field,” offensive coordinator Brian Callahan told reporters in May. “He should be on the field every down. … Ultimately I see Joe as the primary guy to start in all facets of the running game.”
Mixon will benefit from the return of 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow, who tore his ACL and MCL in Week 11 against Washington. The Bengals leaned on Brandon Allen and Ryan Finley for the final six games of the season, who collectively went 107-of-174 for 1,089 yards and six touchdowns
The Bengals’ offensive line has been a glaring pain point for multiple seasons: The unit ranked 27th in the NFL in 2020, allowing an average of three sacks per game.
Although they passed on the draft’s top lineman prospect Penei Sewell in favor of wideout Ja’Marr Chase, the team did make some offseason improvements. They inked former Vikings tackle Riley Reiff to a one-year deal during free agency and selected Crimson Tide lineman Jonah Williams in the second round of this year’s draft, as well as East Carolina’s D’Ante Smith and Georgia’s Trey Hill in the fifth and sixth rounds, respectively.
How to Draft Joe Mixon
Mixon has numerous factors working in his favor heading into the 2021 season: He has a paucity of competition on the depth chart, the Bengals’ offensive line has improved and his injury is not expected to have lasting impacts.
That said, the star running back has yet to live up to preseason expectations in each of the past four years, which has left many fantasy managers understandably hesitant to draft him.
He is currently being drafted late in the second round of drafts as a high-end RB2 with RB1 upside. If healthy, Mixon has the potential to far exceed his draft capital, as he has a very clear opportunity to be one of the league’s workhorse, every-down backs — a rarity in an age when many teams lean on committees over one true bell-cow.