Now that free agency, the NFL Draft, and the schedule release have all passed, we have our initial layout in place in team depth charts and strength of schedule. With that, we want to take a look at some players across the fantasy landscape that are either polarizing, over or undervalued, or just interesting topics of discussion and walk through some pros and cons of where those players are regarded in fantasy circles.
So far we have explored players such as Kenyan Drake, Austin Ekeler, Marquise Brown, Tyler Higbee, Mecole Hardman, Nick Chubb, the trio of DeVante Parker, Preston Williams and Mike Gesicki , D.J. Chark, Odell Beckham, Aaron Jones, Leonard Fournette, Amari Cooper, Cooper Kupp, Derrick Henry, and Evan Engram. For this installment, we are looking into Joe Mixon.
Week 1 Age: 24.1
Contract: Signed through 2020
Using the Dynasty ADP app available at RotoViz, Mixon has continued to see his draft position rise each offseason, settling in as a fringe Round 1/Round 2 draft pick now in startups. Through three NFL seasons, Mixon has had his touches rise every season from the year prior, going for 208 touches as a rookie, up to 280 touches in 2018, and hitting 313 touches a year ago, which ranked seventh among all backs in the league.
Mixon turned those touches into 1,424 yards from scrimmage (11th), becoming the just the fourth Cincinnati running back to reach 1,400 yards in back-to-back seasons, joining James Brooks, Corey Dillon, and Rudi Johnson.
Though his 2019 season was strong in totality, his season was very much a tale of two halves and did not provide fantasy owners with the wire-to-wire output that his end of the year totals may suggest.
2019 Game Log
Through nine weeks in 2019, Mixon was a fantasy nightmare. Over those eight games played, Mixon had registered just 430 yards from scrimmage (37th among running backs) on 120 touches (23rd). Over that span, he was the RB36 in overall scoring while accounting for 33.9% of the Cincinnati offensive touches.
Out of the bye from Weeks 10-17, the Bengals swerved into him as the focal point of their offense. The team also came out of the bye starting fourth-round rookie Ryan Finley for three weeks, but even after the Bengals were through with their official look at Finley, they continued to run their offense through Mixon.
Mixon handled 49.9% of the team touches over his final eight games. His 193 touches and 994 yards from scrimmage trailed only Christian McCaffrey’s 196 opportunities and 1,148 yards over that span while Mixon was the RB4 overall in fantasy scoring. If only we could get Mixon versus the Browns every week. In six career games against Cleveland, Mixon is averaging 134.7 yards from scrimmage per game with four top-10 scoring weeks. Not solely schedule induced, Mixon also had high workhorse games against strong run defenses in New England and Baltimore.
With that late-season surge, Mixon closed the year handling 84.0% of the Cincinnati backfield rushing attempts (third in the league) and 79.0% of their overall backfield touches, which also ranked third.
Mixon did not score his first touchdown on the ground until Week 11 despite having seven carries inside of the 5-yard line over his opening nine games. Base rate for the league in 2019 was converting 48.1% of carries inside of the five for touchdowns.
From a tackle-breaking stance, Mixon ranked fifth in the league in forced missed tackles on rushing attempts and ranked 15th in that same department in 2018. His rate of explosive gains did decrease, with 30.6% of his runs going for five or more yards (down from 35.4% in 2018) and 10.4% going for 10 or more yards (down from 14.4%).
The Bengals offensive line ranked 26th in adjusted line yards created in 2019 (3.90) while their running backs collectively ranked 24th in the league in yards before contact per carry (1.10) despite the Bengals regularly having box advantages. From the school of Sean McVay, Zac Taylor was able to incorporate a scheme that gave Mixon light boxes frequently. The Bengals ran 66% of their rushing plays from 11 personnel, the highest rate in the league in 2020.
Not just impacted by end of game runs chasing points on the scoreboard, that rate was 60% in the first half of games, which ranked fifth. As a byproduct, Mixon ran into boxes of eight or more defenders on just 7.9% of his carries, which was the third-lowest rate in the league behind Devin Singletary (5.3%) and David Johnson (5.3%).
The Bengals will be getting redshirt rookie left tackle Jonah Williams back and signed veteran guard Xavier Su’a-Filo in free agency, but this offensive line still remains a question mark.
The other element in play when you circle back to Mixon’s game log in 2019 and career output is that although he was treated as a workhorse running back, we are still lacking his complete usage in the passing game. After averaging 13.8 yards per reception with nine receiving scores in college, Mixon has finished no higher than 25th among running backs in receiving points per game over his first three seasons.
Over the past two seasons as the lead back, Mixon has still ranked 21st and 17th in routes run for all backs in the league. Even over that end of season breakout a year ago, Mixon still ran fewer pass routes (118) than Giovani Bernard (129). Joe Burrow frequently used a strong pass catching back such as Clyde Edwards-Helaire a year ago which gives hope that the receiving ceiling can be unlocked for Mixon, but the usage in that role needs to be ramped up firsthand and what keeps him joining the absolute elite company at the position.
Bringing this home, Mixon is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Although the recent news about Dalvin Cook potentially holding out has been an added fear for fantasy players, there were early whispers of the threat of a potential holdout for Mixon back in early April right after McCaffrey and Austin Ekeler received new contract extensions while still signed. The new CBA makes it harder for backs under rookie contracts to accrue full NFL seasons holding out, but after recent seasons from Le’Veon Bell and Melvin Gordon, even the potential threat of a holdout is something that is no longer taken lightly by fantasy players.
Things have been quiet on the Mixon front since April, but we will not truly know how serious any contract schism is until teams have to report to training camp, whenever that may be in this unique environment.
All things equal and present on the field, I am high on Mixon for the 2020 season. With the potential improvements on the offensive line, in a scheme that can generate light boxes, and the longer play that eventually he will be used more in the passing game, Mixon is a young workhorse back, which are in short supply. At only age 24 this season, Mixon still carries a lot of Dynasty appeal, but a potential team change and contract dispute still hang in the balance while we still have to take a step of faith that he will be used more effectively as a passer to make a true jump into an alpha-back for fantasy.
As usual in closing here, in dynasty, every player has potential to be both a buy and sell at the same time. You just have to find the proper context in your league on which he is valued per owner. Startup ADP and cost is not going to be an exact market for you with team context a driving force in established leagues, but here are the buy and sell point suggestions using that as guideline pending which side you fall on.
2020 Rookie Pick Value: High First (1.01)
RB Value Targets: Nick Chubb, Miles Sanders
WR Value Targets: Tyreek Hill, D.J, Moore, Chris Godwin
TE Value Targets: George Kittle
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