In 16 games in 2021, Joe Mixon had a career year. He had the ninth-most prolific season in the history of the Cincinnati Bengals franchise and already has the fifth-most career yards in Bengals history. He’s already solidified himself as a top running back from a franchise that has had a criminally underrated history of backs and he still has work to do. Currently, Rudi Johnson holds the single-season Bengals rushing record of 1,458 yards in 2005.
That 2005 Bengals squad could be considered the greatest team this franchise has ever assembled but the 2022 edition has a shot to beat that mark. Mixon is an elite running back already. He’s poised to add to his already great resume this fall.
Joe Mixon Can Break the Bengals Rushing Record in 2022
Cincinnati Drastically Improved Its Offensive Line
The number one headline this past off-season was how Cincinnati improved its offensive line. To end the year, PFF ranked the Bengals offensive line as a whole at 20th. Now, considering they gave up 70+ sacks, Joe Burrow had to overcome so much that a noteworthy portion of their playbook was likely out the window. He was able to get rid of the ball quickly, thus the impact was minimized.
In the Super Bowl, Burrow and Mixon had Jonah Williams, Quinton Spain, Trey Hopkins, Hakeem Adeniji, and Isaiah Prince as an offensive line. Now, two of those starters are off the team and two more are not considered NFL starters in any capacity. Cincinnati has since added Alex Cappa, Ted Karras, and La’el Collins. Even with the question mark at left guard, the Bengals offensive line — assuming Jackson Carman is the missing piece — is considered top-ten.
Obviously, the focus is on the group’s pass-blocking but the run-blocking has vastly improved. Last year, the offensive line had a 64.1 run blocking PFF grade. This year, this is how they stack up compared to last year:
- Jonah Williams: 75.6
- Jackson Carman: 64.1 (Quinton Spain: 69.4)
- Ted Karras: 67.3 (Trey Hopkins: 47.6)
- Alex Cappa: 69.0 (Hakeem Adeniji: 46.3, Jackson Carman: 64.1)
- La’el Collins: 89.7 (Isaiah Prince: 67.3, Riley Reiff: 70.0)
The only position where there seems to be a step back is moving from Spain to Carman. Even then, there will be a battle between Carman and Bengals fourth-round selection, Cordell Volson. Volson comes from North Dakota State (FCS) and is a better run-blocker than he is a pass-blocker. Carman’s allegations aside, Volson could beat him straight-up in training camp to solidify this offensive line.
He Will Face A Potentially Favorable Schedule
Basing projections off of 2021 is a dangerous prospect. Half of the NFL gets better, half get worse. However, basing Mixon’s shot at breaking the Bengals rushing record off of 2021, he can do it.
The Bengals schedule is full of defenses of all caliber. On one hand, they face the four stingiest defenses (including the Ravens twice, who had the best rushing defense). On the other hand, they face three of the five most porous defenses (including the Steelers twice, who were the worst). Cincinnati will face off against teams who will try to focus on stopping the passing attack with Burrow, Tee Higgins, and Ja’Marr Chase, allowing Zac Taylor to draw up a Mixon-heavy game plan.
Judging by 2021 averages, Mixon has a phenominal shot of not just breaking the Bengals rushing record, he could royally shatter it. If Mixon rushes for just what his opponents averaged in 2021, he will finish with 1,908 yards.
Mixon is Already a Top Running Back
In his three full seasons (excluding his rookie year and 2020 where he played just six games), Mixon showed how good he was, even with a bad offensive line. In those years, the Bengals offensive line run-blocking grades were atrocious: 56.7 (2019), 48.6 (2018), and 64.1 (2021). Mixon ran for 3,510 yards and 26 touchdowns in those respective seasons, even missing three games.
For his career, Mixon averages 69.2 yards per game. However, in his three years as a top back, Mixon averaged 76.3 yards per game. Remembering, of course, how bad his offensive line has been, 2022 will be a pleasant wake-up call.
Statistically, Mixon’s three best seasons put him as a top-ten back. In terms of yards (third in 2021; fourth in 2018; ninth in 2019) and touchdowns (fourth in 2021). In terms of players who played at least 16 games in 2021, Mixon was second in yards per game.
The only possible drawback would be the idea that with this revamped offensive line, Cincinnati will be a pass-first team. While this is certainly a possibility, it’s a bit unlikely. Zac Taylor’s offense loves to utilize zone schemes and play action. “You don’t need a running game to run play action!” That’s true, but being able to run effectively does not hurt. With defenses working to defend and take away the trio of Chase/Higging/Boyd, Mixon will have plenty of opportunities to feast.
If Mixon breaks Johnson’s Bengals rushing record by a yard, it will propel him past Johnson with the third-most rushing yards in Bengals history. If he reaches that lofty 1,907 yards mark, he’d own the second-most yards, just behind Corey Dillon.