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Is Joe Mixon a Fantasy Football First-Round Pick?

Would you select Joe Mixon in the first round of your fantasy football draft? Dr. Roto makes the argument for the underrated running back.
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Each offseason, fantasy owners try to identify players who finished strong as an option they might want to target in the following year's draft. No player fits this criterion more than the Cincinnati Bengals RB Joe Mixon. Mixon was arguably one of the top three running backs over the last four games of the 2019 season. However, the question remains as to whether he can build on last year’s success and become a first-round selection for 2020 fantasy owners.

Mixon has an exciting skill set. He is explosive out of the backfield and has better hands than most people give him credit for. Take a look at his 2019 highlight reel, and you will see a player who has stardom written all over:

What makes him even more interesting is that the Bengals are expected to be significantly better in 2020 than they were in 2019. Not only are they expected to add Heisman Trophy-winning QB Joe Burrow from LSU as the first overall pick in this year's draft. They are hoping that All-Pro WR A.J. Green will be back healthy as well. Having Burrow and Green will make a huge difference. Firstly, last year's starting QB, Andy Dalton, had no mobility, and the Bengals could not take advantage of the many RPO (run-pass options) that so many other teams run. 

As we saw last season at LSU, Burrow is very mobile in the pocket, and the threat of him running should open up running lanes for Mixon. Secondly, Green's presence gives them a significant threat in the passing game that the opposition has to account for on every play. It's not that Tyler Boyd and John Ross are bad options; it just that Green is so good that he requires the opponent's top cover guy to be on him, which in turn gives Boyd and Ross more opportunities to make plays downfield. The threat of the passing attack will also open up more opportunities for Mixon, including him being an outlet receiver out of the backfield.

At the end of 2019, it was apparent that second-year head coach Zac Taylor finally committed to Mixon and the running game. Up until Week 14, Mixon had only one game over 25 carries and 100 rushing yards. However, in his last four games, the team fed him the ball early and often:

Week 14: 23 carries for 146 yards 4 receptions for 40 yards
Week 15: 25 carries for 136 yards 3 receptions for 20 yards
Week 16: 21 carries for 50 yards 2 receptions for 23 yards
Week 17: 26 carries for 162 yards 1 reception for 14 yards

Not only did Mixon average around 27 touches per game, but he also scored three TDs. Twenty-seven touches per game is a number that is reserved for only the top running backs in the game like Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Derrick Henry, and Ezekiel Elliott. If Mixon averages anywhere close to that, he might have more touches than Alvin Kamara, Austin Ekeler, and Leonard Fournette, who are also thought to be first-round picks.

As for whether Mixon is a first-rounder in fantasy football in 2020, think of it this way: in 2019, Mixon finished the season as the RB13 with the eighth-most rushing yards (1137) and 8 TDs. He did this with a subpar quarterback and an offensive line that could barely open any holes for him all season. Now with a new QB in Burrow, a return from A.J. Green, and an improved offensive line with a head coach committed to the run game, it is possible for Mixon to finish as the RB6 in 2020, which makes him a viable selection at the end of the first round.

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