Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Mixon leader of the pack of breakout players

Though Marvin Lewis brought the Cincinnati Bengals out of the dark ages, the program grew stale in his sixteen-year tenure. With a new head coach in place, several players have a new lease on life in the post-Marvin Lewis era.

The Cincinnati Bengals have been an enigma over the past decade. Despite a roster loaded with talent, all the team has to show for it is six one-and-done wildcard playoff appearances. New coaches and a new identity offer current players a fresh start. Examining Zac Taylor’s tendencies as Rams wide receivers and quarterbacks coach and Miami interim offensive coordinator gives us an idea of who is set for a breakout in 2019.

Joe Mixon – Running back

The Bengals gave us a good idea of what they have planned on offense in this year’s NFL Draft. With the first two rounds dedicated to powerful run blockers, expect a game plan heavily dependent on the run game. Running back Joe Mixon is a superstar in waiting. In 14 games last season he ran for 1,168 yards with a gaudy 4.9 yards per carry. He’s a dual-threat back as well, chipping in 73 receptions in just two seasons. Though their offensive line was in shambles last season, the Bengals have done well to fortify the line in the offseason.

Guard John Miller comes over from Buffalo via free agency. Miller was part of an offensive line that finished in the top ten in rushing each of Miller’s four seasons. Cincinnati then turned to the draft to finish the job. Pro Football Focus ranked first-round offensive tackle Jonah Williams second in run-blocking among all tackles in this year’s class. The Bengals doubled down on run blockers in the second round with the selection of tight end Drew Sample, the top-ranked run blocking TE. Despite a talented stable of running backs, Mixon is the clear-cut leader of the Cincinnati Bengals backfield. He will benefit the most from the Bengals new commitment to the running game. 1,400 yards rushing and 50+ receptions are not out of the question in 2019.

Andy Dalton – Quarterback

Given the apparent commitment to the run game, it might surprise you to see Dalton on this list. However, Dalton’s situation is eerily similar to Rams quarterback Jared Goff. Goff was initially coached by a defensive-minded head coach in Jeff Fisher and blossomed once Fisher was relieved of his coaching duties. Wide receiver A.J. Green’s offseason comments about the offense not being allowed to “show up the defense” in Lewis’ practices offer some clarity as to why Dalton was never able to take the Bengals offense to the next level.

Under Taylor’s tutelage as a position coach, Goff threw 28 TD’s in 15 games in 2017 and 32 TD’s in 2018. With the offensive-minded Taylor now in Cincinnati, Dalton should reap the benefits. Though he might not throw the ball as much as prior seasons, his overall efficiency should improve. He also has some added motivation with the team widely expected to move forward with QB Ryan Finley in 2020.

William Jackson – Cornerback

One good thing that came from Cincinnati’s worst-ranked defense in yards allowed last season was the lessons learned by cornerback William Jackson. He struggled to learn then-defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s new scheme. Despite his struggles, he was still the AFC North’s third-ranked CB by Pro Football Focus. To be honest, Austin’s scheme was a hot mess in 2018, warranting his mid-season firing. With Lou Anarumo stepping in as the Bengals third coordinator in two seasons, Jackson doesn’t plan on making the same mistake. He’s asking more questions to have a better understanding of what’s expected of him. With prototype size and superb athletic ability, expect Anarumo, a former defensive backs coach, to make Jackson the centerpiece of the secondary, if not the entire defense.

Carl Lawson – Edge

After a tremendous rookie season where Lawson racked up 8.5 sacks, the speed rusher took a step back in 2018. He only logged one sack in half a season, though scheme and a torn ACL in Week 8 are partially to blame. Despite the sophomore slump, Pro Football Focus ranked Lawson’s 2018 pass rushing grade just outside of the top ten among all edge rushers. He’s ahead of schedule in his rehab and hopes to be healthy for training camp and ready for week one. The Bengals did not address the edge position in the draft, so it looks like they’re happy with what they currently have on the roster. Expect Lawson to regain his rookie form and be a big part of the Bengals pass rush this season.