Stop That Hype Train! - Joe Mixon

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Joe Mixon was known just as much for his off-the-field problems as he was for his on-the-field awesomeness when he came out of college and made himself available for the NFL draft in April. Mixon’s brilliant but brief two-year college career at Oklahoma was overshadowed by a video of him punching a woman in the face and whispers about transgressions as far back as high school. This turned him in from being a first-rounder to a second-rounder when the draft rolled around.

The question is whether it will turn fantasy owners away from taking him in the early rounds of their drafts. Probably not, as fantasy owners never seem to be as worried about a player’s checkered past or dubious decisions as NFL owners and general managers are.

Mixon has gotten more pub this offseason and preseason than all of the Kardashians and Jenners combined. Once he was drafted by the Bengals and signed his contract, the chatter became less about his criminal history and more about his fantasy future. Many fantasy owners and experts believe Mixon can be a fantastic fantasy force and become the centerpiece of Cincinnati’s running attack. But guess what? These people could be wrong.

Editor's note: Use our Week 1 rankings and tiers to set your winning lineups: PPR, Half PPR, Standard. Ranks Wizard

 

Mixon and the Bengals Offense: Could Work, Could Fail 

Last time I looked, Cincinnati was not starving for running backs in its backfield. Power runner Jeremy Hill has scored 30 touchdowns in three seasons and has been effective between the tackles, while speed merchant Giovani Bernard had three consecutive seasons with over 1,000 combined yards and would have had a fourth if a torn ACL did not prematurely end his 2016 campaign six games early. So while both Hill and Bernard may have had some questions hanging over them heading into the 2017 season, it was not as if when you watched Cincinnati play last season you easily assumed a top priority for them was upgrading the RB position.

Admittedly, Cincinnati’s offense has gotten as stale the past couple years as a candy corn from last Halloween. Run Hill inside. Run Bernard outside. Have Andy Dalton throw to A.J. Green whether or not he is double-covered or quadruple-covered. Look for Tyler Eifert inside the red zone (when Eifert is actually on the field and not in the hospital having surgery). This is how it’s been since 2014, and this needs to change in some way.

Mixon has all the talented tools a running back needs to be a stat stud. In two years as a Sooner superstar, Mixon showed that he does not need to be swapped out for a power back near the end zone (26 touchdowns), nor does he have to be subbed for on third downs in favor of a pass-catching specialist RB (65 receptions). And with 6.8 yards per carry and 13.8 yards per reception for his college career, Mixon has proven he is a perpetual threat for big gainers no matter where he is on the football field.

 

The Warning Signs are There... and They're Real

Here are the problems:  Mixon’s propensity for putting his fists where they do not belong and getting in trouble when he is not in a football uniform makes him a fantasy risk. Another off-the-field fiasco could make him the next Ray Rice. Fantasy owners have to take this into consideration when drafting their squads this week.

Plus with Hill and Bernard to contend with in Cincinnati’s crowded backfield, Mixon has to leapfrog both to become the team’s top tailback. Last time I looked, Hill is still considered the starter and is the better red-zone back, and Bernard is probably the better third-down option in the backfield because he has more experience and better pass-catching skills than Mixon. Mixon is going to need a few weeks of positive play before he fights his way to the top of the depth chart, and for the next few weeks will see limited action on obvious passing downs and near the goal line.

Fantasy football owners love to stick their flags into players they think will become the next fantasy franchise player, and rookie running backs normally are the first to get stuck. Just do not let all the hype surrounding Mixon make you draft him earlier than you should, because the color of the flag you should be sticking in him is red.

 

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