Possibly the source of plenty of Cincinnati Bengals fans’ ire, the Bengals running backs are an underrated bunch. Cincinnati’s offense tends to be pass-first but this group has been able to take advantage of their opportunities…for the most part.
The 2022 group of Bengals running backs will be similar if not the same as the 2021 group. Cincinnati has reaffirmed its support of these backs and will go into the season stocked with playmakers. From Joe Mixon, who could have a record-breaking year, to Chris Evans and his cult-like following among fans, the Bengals running backs will be in a great position to succeed this year.
Previewing the Cincinnati Bengals Running Backs Heading into Training Camp
Already a top-five running back, Mixon has been one of the most prolific rushers in Bengals history. Considering that 1. Mixon has missed 15 games and, 2. the rich history of running backs in Cincinnati, that’s saying something.
hot take: joe mixon will lead the league in rushing yards this season. pic.twitter.com/leHSl9ENCQ
— 𝙖𝙫𝙚𝙧𝙮 (@JaMarrJungle) July 19, 2022
Expectations were high heading into 2021 for Mixon. He had just come off of a mere six-game season in 2020 and was finally fully healthy. Despite running behind the worst offensive line in football, Mixon managed 1,205 yards and 13 touchdowns. Each mark was a career-best and he finished third and fourth in the NFL, respectively. On three occasions in 2021, Mixon rushed for more than 100 yards. He was really hitting his stride between Weeks 7 and 12 where he ran for nearly 500 yards and nine touchdowns. He scored at least once in six straight games and scored twice in three straight.
For 2022, Mixon is primed to continue his breakout. As it’s been repeated, the Bengals greatly improved their offensive line. Additionally, defenses will be respecting Joe Burrow and his weapons on the outside. When it comes to facing the first-place schedule that the Bengals have drawn, Mixon will face a bottom-half rushing defense in eight games.
During Super Bowl LVI, the question that was repeated ad nauseam was “where was Mixon on that final drive?” Cincinnati has a pass-protection running back and it’s not Mixon. This is one area where he must improve. Getting Mixon the ball via the pass is just another wrinkle for defenses. Bad spot on 3rd and 1 aside, if Mixon were on the field, it changes everything.
After demolishing records as the running back at the University of Oklahoma, Samaje Perine struggled to catch on in the NFL. He rushed for 603 yards but just one score in his rookie year for the Washington Commanders. Perine then managed just 32 yards in five games the following year, resulting in him being waived. He joined the Bengals running backs and then was subsequently waived six weeks later and put on the practice squad. The Miami Dolphins poached Perine, then waived him ahead of the 2020 season. Cincinnati re-added Perine and he’s called Cincinnati home ever since.
Over his next two years, Perine has been a sizeable piece of the Bengals running backs depth. He has rushed for 549 yards and four touchdowns. Where Perine has been more dangerous has been as a receiving back. He’s added 309 yards and two touchdowns as a receiver. None of those were more impressive or clutch than his massive 41-yard touchdown off of a screen in the AFC Championship.
Perine is under contract for the 2022 season and there has been no indication that the team would move on from him. Perine will go into camp as RB2 but due to the athleticism of Evans, it’s possible Perine’s place in the pecking order could change.
The wild card of these Bengals running backs is the second-year back out of Michigan, Chris Evans. Captain America or not, Evans was a clutch player given his RB3 notation. At Michigan, it was always known that he was special. As has been the case in Jim Harbaugh’s tenure, Evans’ athleticism was criminally under-utilized. He always split time with another back during his first three years on campus. When Evans was about to take the next step and become the Wolverines’ starting back, he went through academic issues and was booted off the team. After returning for a fifth season, Evans was selected by the Bengals in the sixth round of the 2021 draft.
Evans has a cult-like following within Bengals fandom. The hype started with the selection and belief that he has the legitimate skill to be a difference-maker. That hype was not quelled after he made a ridiculous catch for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions. On the year, Evans averaged over seven yards a touch.
Moving forward, Evans could play his way into the RB2 role. Additionally, Evans began returning kicks at the end of the year. During the Bengals playoff run, Evans managed 23.4 yards per return. He is a dynamic playmaker, so Zac Taylor will look to get the ball into Evans’ hands in any way possible that does not take away from his elite receivers.
Another former sixth-rounder, Trayveon Williams has a collegiate history of playmaking abilities but has never gotten his feet under him in the NFL. At Texas A&M, Williams had elite freshman and junior years, rushing for 1,057 yards and 1,760 yards with eight and 18 touchdowns, respectively. He shattered Aggie records and, as with Evans, he has shown plenty of athleticism.
Williams has bounced between active roster and practice squad over his three years as a pro. The overwhelming majority of his productivity came in 2020 as Mixon was missing 10 games. Williams rushed for just 157 yards off of 26 carries. He has yet to score in any fashion at the NFL level.
Assuming the health of the three ahead of him, Williams will likely be another practice squad running back in 2022.
Son of former heavyweight boxer Evander Holyfield, Elijah Holyfield made a name for himself as part of a one-two punch at Georgia beside D’Andre Swift. He had a great junior year, rushing for 1,018 yards and seven touchdowns, and elected to enter the NFL Draft. After going undrafted, he signed with the Carolina Panthers. He spent 2019 with the Panthers and then was waived to be picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles. He bounced between active and inactive status until finally being waived again before the 2021 season. Holyfield was picked up by Cincinnati and was stashed on the practice squad since.
With the depth of the Bengals running backs, there is no reason to believe Holyfield’s future with the team will be much different.