Joe Mixon was suddenly added to the Cincinnati Bengals’ injury report with a chest injury the day before their Week 4 matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Late additions to the injury report like Mixon’s is always a concern with him now being “questionable” heading into this weekend’s game. Regardless of whether Mixon suits up or not, it’s clear he won’t be 100% for this contest. What does that mean for Giovani Bernard, and what does his fantasy football value become for Week 4? Let’s take a look.
The Bengals have struggled running the ball in 2020
While the Bengals didn’t blow anyone out of the water with their run game in 2019 (94.8 yards per game, 25th in the league), it did boast the ninth-leading rusher (1,137) in Mixon. He also finished the season strong with 100+ yard performances in four of his last eight games last season. Between the debut of 2019 first-round draft pick Jonah Williams and a new quarterback in fellow first-round selection Joe Burrow, the entire Bengals offense was expected to take the next step this season.
To this point, that hasn’t happened as the Bengals are in the bottom 25% of the league in points-per-game (22.0) and in offensive yards-per-game (317.3). That includes a disappointing performance from their run game as they have the third-fewest rushing yards-per-game (79.3) and only one rushing touchdown thus far. A lot of that can be blamed on the below-average offensive line performance and the negative game script from having a defense giving up just under 400 offensive yards-per-game (392.3).
Mixon has still been receiving the workhorse treatment with 52 of 54 rush attempts by running backs despite averaging under three yards-per-carry in two of his three games so far this season. He has been losing third-down/passing-down work to Bernard as Bernard has seen 15 targets turn into 12 receptions for 98 yards (both third on the team). Looking at his whole body of work, Bernard has been much more reliable as he has converted five of his 14 touches for first downs (35.7%) while Mixon has only converted 10 of his 59 touches (16.9%) for first downs.
What the Bengals running back rotation could look like in Week 4
Mixon had stayed off the injury report all week before the last-minute addition on Saturday, the day before he and the Bengals face-off with the Jaguars. Those types of occurrences rarely ever bear positive news and further complicates a Bengals offense that is still trying to get their footing.
So, even if Mixon were to be active on Sunday, it’s evident that he is going to be operating at less than 100%. Couple that with his early-season struggles, and it creates a nightmare scenario for those fantasy football managers who spent a first-round pick on him.
It would appear to be more likely that Mixon would still see a lot of early-down work but perhaps have it scaled back to Bernard or even third-string running back Trayveon Williams.
Whether Mixon was going to play or not, he wasn’t expected to see a lot of work in the passing game with Bernard continuing to see the field and playing well when called upon. Bernard could easily see even more work on passing downs as he has seen at least five over each of the last two games (12 total).
As of this writing, ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted out that Mixon is expected to play in Week 4 despite the very recent “questionable” tag. It will remain to be seen how much Mixon will be used in a game versus the Jaguars. While he very well could have another week of 18-20 offensive touches in what will be a competitive game, it’s also entirely possible that he sees his workload scaled back to someone like Bernard. Even when healthy, Mixon has struggled to figure it out so far. So the Bengals could look to one of their most reliable offensive weapons in Bernard to shoulder more of the load in Week 4.
What is Giovani Bernard’s fantasy football outlook for Week 4?
With the new world that we live in, we have already seen the Titans-Steelers game be postponed with the Patriots-Chiefs game hanging in the balance and perhaps the Lions-Saints game being in jeopardy all of a sudden. For fantasy football managers, that means losing out on running backs like Derrick Henry, James Conner, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Alvin Kamara. That could lead to a mad scramble to try and replace that type of production in lineups. Bernard represents a potential plug-and-play option for those managers.
Despite the very limited workload, Bernard has scored at least six fantasy points in point-per-reception (PPR) scoring leagues thus far. Any increase to that workload could see Bernard’s extremely high floor get elevated even more. He’s going up against a Jaguars defense that has given up the sixth-most receptions (22) and ninth-most receiving yards (171) to opposing running backs thus far. So Bernard will already have a plus match-up regardless of Mixon’s status.
Overall, I’d feel comfortable having Bernard in at my FLEX position in PPR leagues as a top-36 running back even if Mixon is active. If Mixon were to not be active, Bernard becomes an instant start as a top-24 running back in either half-PPR or whole PPR scoring formats. Both the Bengals and Jaguars boast two of the weaker defenses on paper, which could allow for a back-and-forth game that doesn’t lead to negative game script and allow for both teams to run the ball plenty. Bernard could easily see 10+ offensive touches regardless of Mixon’s status.
Bernard has been the Bengals’ most efficient and reliable running back despite the smaller sample size (and contract) to Mixon. With him going through an early-season slump and now facing injury, he’s a risky play even if active for Week 4. For all of the fantasy football owners who could suddenly be without Henry, Conner, Edwards-Helaire, and potentially Kamara now, Bernard represents one of the safest replacements that should still be readily available on most waiver wires. Be sure to pick him up and place him in your RB2 or FLEX spot if needed with confidence for this weekend.
Doug Moore is a fantasy football writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @DMooreNFL.