The issue of the fantasy value of running backs entering the final year of their rookie contract has already been thrown into the spotlight by the news that Dalvin Cook is threatening to hold out from the Minnesota Vikings. Immediately after the storm had calmed around Cook, questions were being raised about Joe Mixon, who is a running back in the same situation, and his dynasty value entering the 2020 season.
So far, there has been no suggestion of Mixon threatening to hold out, but entering the final year of his contract, there are certainly questions surrounding his value in dynasty leagues. That uncertainty stretches beyond just Mixon and to the other backs on the Cincinnati Bengals roster.
Giovani Bernard is currently the main backup, but second-year players Trayveon Williams and Rodney Anderson could both see an increase in value if Mixon were to be on a different team in 2021. Let’s dive into Mixon’s performances, his contract, and what they mean for his dynasty value entering 2020.
Joe Mixon’s dynasty value in 2020
How has Mixon performed for fantasy owners?
Mixon struggled in his rookie year, ranking 32nd among running backs in fantasy points. Part of the issue is that he only started seven games, leading to just 208 touches. However, he was also not efficient in that rookie season with a Fantasy Point Differential (FPD) 20% below his expected fantasy points in non-PPR formats and 16% below expected in PPR.
He improved in 2018, finishing ninth at the running back position and 23rd overall. He was also far more efficient with those touches, at six and five percent above expected in non-PPR and PPR formats, respectively. In 2019, he still finished 11th among running backs and 23rd overall. However, he once again had a negative FPD, -8% in non-PPR, and -7% in PPR.
However, it is interesting to break down his efficiency in the rushing game versus the receiving game. In 2019, he struggled for efficiency carrying the ball, averaging 0.52 fantasy points per carry. However, 2019 was his most efficient year in terms of turning receptions into fantasy points as he averaged a career-high 1.33 fantasy points per reception in non-PPR leagues.
That dip in fantasy points per carry comes as the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive line ranked 26th in adjusted line yards in 2019, down from 22nd in 2018. Even though 22nd is not great, it does show that with slightly better line play, Mixon can produce for fantasy owners. The return of last year’s first-round selection Jonah Williams should help boost the line’s efficiency and get Mixon back up from that 0.52 number in 2020.
What does the Offensive Share Metric tell us about Mixon?
According to Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM), Mixon’s returns have not been good throughout his career. OSM defines an individual player’s contribution to the overall offensive success of a team, taking into account elements he has control over. Mixon has never ranked better than 35th at the position when it comes to OSM, finishing 40th in 2017, 35th in 2018, and 46th in 2019.
Despite seeing eight or more men in the box just 7.91% of the time (third-lowest in the league), he ranked in the bottom half of the league in efficiency, time spent behind the line of scrimmage, and yards per carry. Additionally, Mixon’s struggles when it comes to OSM have been fairly consistent. Last season, Mixon did not have an OSM score above 15 in any single week and scored below 10, which grades as “poor” on eight occasions.
Is Mixon consistent for fantasy owners?
Consistency was another thing that Mixon struggled for in 2019. After ranking 10th in 2018 with a consistency score of 6.82, he fell to 18th at the position with a consistency score of 4.83. In 2019, he was a top-24 running back just 53% of the time and managed to finish as a top-10 option in just 25% of games.
Those consistency concerns for Mixon make sense given the discussion above regarding his inefficiency carrying the ball and the struggles of his offensive line. When his offensive line performed better in 2018, his consistency was better than it was in 2019. Therefore, if he can see improved offensive line play in 2020, he has the potential to improve his efficiency carrying the ball, bringing with it improved consistency.
What does Mixon’s contract situation mean for his dynasty value?
Entering the final year of his contract, Mixon’s situation is somewhat up in the air from a dynasty point of view. Uncertainty is never ideal for dynasty, but for a player who spent 2019 playing behind the 26th best line in terms of run blocking, a move could potentially increase his value. However, with Cincinnati’s offense in general expected to improve, including potentially their offensive line, that is no certainty.
The Bengals are currently expected to have $80 million in cap space in 2021, but given the uncertainty of the future of the salary cap, that could be a lot less. That is bad news for Mixon, who could be considered surplus to the requirement if the cap drops. Usually, a team with that much cap space may be willing to retain their star back with a front-loaded contract, but that may not be possible for Mixon in 2021. Additionally, the 2021 RB free-agent group is expected to be a bumper one, meaning that Mixon may not be able to command the price he expects. All of this throws his future as an asset in dynasty leagues into a somewhat chaotic situation.
What about 2020?
Entering the 2020 season, Mixon has very little direct competition for carries in Cincinnati. It has become quite clear that the Bengals are not going to give Bernard significant carries, and there is no indication the two young backs on the roster are going to get significant carries either. Additionally, if the Bengals are considering letting Mixon hit free agency, they will not hesitate to give him a bulk of the carries in 2020.
My projections for this year have Mixon with 280 carries, with 1,185 rushing yards and 8 rushing touchdowns. In terms of his role in the passing game, I have Mixon projected for 47 targets, 38 receptions, 304 receiving yards, and 2 touchdowns. Those numbers would place him at RB8 in non-PPR leagues and RB11 in PPR leagues.
The concerns are that the numbers discussed above make it hard to trust Mixon as a late first-round/early second-round pick, which is where you currently have to take him based on ADP. Mixon’s consistency is the biggest concern because you want to be able to rely on your first-round pick every week to provide you solid performances. However, as I mentioned earlier, Mixon was only a top-24 back 53% of the time in 2019.
Which other Bengals’ back should you invest in?
In the short term, as a handcuff to Mixon, Bernard is the back to invest in if you think you can win in 2020. Bernard will not pick up the full workload if Mixon misses time, but he should see enough of a boost to be valuable. Right now, I have Bernard projected for 48 carries, 198 rushing yards, 1.5 touchdowns, 30 receptions, 258 receiving yards, and 1.6 touchdowns. All of that adds up to just 60 fantasy points in non-PPR and 93 fantasy points in PPR. If Mixon were to miss any time, we could see all of those numbers increase significantly in 2020.
However, longer-term Bernard is unlikely to be the best back to invest in given he will be 29 this season and has never been trusted with a full lead-back workload. Behind Bernard, both Anderson and Williams were successful in college, both carrying and catching the ball. In terms of their relative athletic score, Anderson did not register enough measurements due to an injury in his final year of college. Meanwhile, Williams had a RAS of just 4.68 with “very poor” grades when it comes to his agility and just “good” grades for explosion and speed.
Neither of them touched the ball at all in 2019, which makes it hard to judge how either of them will perform in the NFL. Right now, given the concerns around whether the Bengals line can improve, and the expected continued presence of Bernard, who still has two more years remaining on his current contract. Anderson’s injury situation makes him a hard player to invest in with confidence, making Williams the better upside shot if you are looking for a back end of the roster addition in dynasty.
Essentially at this point, there are real concerns over the whole Bengals’ backfield. Mixon should have plenty of opportunities in 2020, but his future is a massive unknown right now. The issue is that you need to invest at least a top-20 pick in a dynasty startup, which is too rich given those question marks.
Behind him, there is a lot of uncertainty with the presence of Bernard and the unknowns of Williams and Anderson. That means that you cannot even insure your Mixon share with a sure-fire backup plan if he were to miss time or move on in 2021. With all of this in mind, Mixon is a player to look to avoid in startups and is someone that you should be testing the trade waters with. He is now entering that peak age 24 season, much like Ezekiel Elliott, meaning that his value may never be higher than it will be in 2020.