Mixed on Mixon: What is Joe Mixon’s Dynasty Value?

Tom Burroughs

I am conflicted about Joe Mixon.

My internal struggle seems to mirror the opinion of the fantasy community, which is split on whether he can move into the elite tier of running backs or not.

On one hand, Mixon is immensely talented with a three-down skill set. On the other, he is stuck on the Cincinnati Bengals offense and has been nicked up with injuries in his early career.

Mixon’s status as a polarizing figure makes him an intriguing subject to examine in an effort to project where his value is headed. He has been steadfast atop the second tier of running backs, ranking seventh at the position. I decided to take a closer look at his advanced metrics and situation to see if he can break through the ceiling and join the exalted clouds of the elite.

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Is he a feature back?

Mixon came out of college with the production and measurables to be a three-down workhorse. His draft stock justifiably fell because of his heinous off-field actions in college and he dropped to the middle of the second round in the NFL draft where the Bengals selected him.

Take a look at his career statistics so far:

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In 2018, he was fourth in the league in rushing yards despite missing two games and was ninth in fantasy points per game (17.4). His 4.9 yards per carry was 12th in the league and he proved to be a home run hitter with the second most big runs (15+ yards). He also showed an ability to consistently create on his own, ranking seventh in yards created (a metric accounting for offensive line performance per playerprofiler.com).

While he has excelled in his efficiency, a knock against Mixon is that he does not get enough usage. He was on pace to have 270 rushing attempts, which would have been a mark only eclipsed by Ezekiel Elliott (304). So while more usage would certainly increase his production, I am not sure it is a reasonable expectation in today’s NFL.

Where will an increase in fantasy points come from?

An area where I believe Mixon can improve considerably is his receiving. A 12% target share with 43 receptions on 55 targets is a satisfying stat line for most running backs, but it does not come near the potential role he can fill.

In 2018, passes traveling to Mixon had a 0.2 average depth of target (ADOT) and his combined targets traveled only nine yards beyond the line of scrimmage. He was able to turn these receptions into 296 receiving yards, 328 coming after the catch. Airyards.com has a metric of efficiency that calculates what players are able to do with the targets they receive (Receiver Air Conversion Ratio). Mixon ranked as the sixth most efficient receiving back in the league on this metric.

This data comes together to suggest that Mixon was strictly used as an outlet receiver coming out of the backfield. His reception chart below further underlines this point by showing he had zero targets beyond ten yards and rarely beyond the line of scrimmage. Despite usage that was lacking in creativity, he regularly found success creating yards on his own.

Joe Mixon Target/Reception Heat Map

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Graphic courtesy of ffstatistics.com.

What about the Bengals offense?

New head coach Zac Taylor has worked under Sean McVay in Los Angeles the past two seasons as the wide receivers and quarterbacks coach. McVay experienced immediate success by installing a modern offensive scheme that utilizes minimal variation in personnel sets, but massive versatility with alignments, pre-snap motion, and a heavy dose of play action. The team went from being dead last in team scoring (14 points per game) to the highest (29) in one season.

It is unreasonable to expect Taylor does this with the Bengals, but it underlines how essential scheme is to the success of an offense. Cincinnati has legitimate weapons between stalwart AJ Green (WR), recent breakout Tyler Boyd (WR), and oft-injured Tyler Eifert (TE). While he has been a disappointment given the draft capital, John Ross (WR) scored seven touchdowns and showed flashes of being a contributor with his record-setting speed. And say what you will about Andy Dalton (QB), he has shown that he can manage effective offenses in the past.

This is a core that can stretch defenses vertically and horizontally, creating opportunities for Mixon to work against light and base defensive run packages. An improvement in their play-action success can have similar effects. The Bengals were 12th in play action usage (25%) but were 24th (7.2) in yards on these plays. The Rams were first (32%) and second (9.2) in these rankings, respectively. It is no coincidence that Todd Gurley made a massive leap in production when McVay took the reins in L.A. I see many parallels with Mixon.

Play Action Usage and Success

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My hope is that the team will deploy Mixon to maximize his elite skills as a receiver. Lining him up in the slot or motioning out wide in the pre-snap formation will create mismatches against linebackers and slot cornerbacks. This will allow Mixon to work underneath as a receiver — increasing his ADOT and air yards — and open up the rest of the offense downfield.

Mixon is one of the most gifted pass-catching running backs in the league and should be used in a system where he approaches 80 targets. I can see this leading a 1,700 all-purpose yards and 10-12 TDs, putting him clearly in the top three-five running backs on the season.


Mixon has lived up to just about any expectation of him coming out of college. He has been one of the most efficient backs and has managed to produce despite being on a stale offensive scheme marred with injuries. In a season where the Bengals quarterback and top receiver missed significant time — and the coach was clearly on the way out — Mixon continued to produce at a high level.

Notably, injuries have been a concern with him. He has suffered an ankle sprain, concussion, and knee injury requiring mid-season arthroscopic “clean up” in his two seasons. The silver lining is that none of these injuries are highly suggestive of a re-occurring concern. He has avoided soft tissue injury and appeared unaffected by his knee injury the remainder of the season upon returning in 2018.

Mixon has proven capable of being a top fantasy asset and only minor changes need to occur in his situation for him to enter this status. I have faith this will occur and I project he will finish as a top three back in 2019. His price tag is high at the current dynasty startup ADP of 13.3, but it’s worthwhile if he becomes one of the coveted backs commanding top dollar this time next year.

Data courtesy of pro-football-Reference.com, ffstatistics.com, sharpfootballstats.com, footballoutsiders.com, and playerprofiler.com.

Thank you for reading. You can follow me on Twitter @FF_TomB. I am always happy to answer questions and chat all things fantasy.


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