Few fans would think that a franchise coming off a 6-25 stretch over the last two years would be even remotely interesting to watch. The Cincinnati Bengals, though, are a uniquely built offense capable of becoming a must-watch affair each week.
The Bengals have amassed arguably the best set of young playmakers in the NFL to put around second-year quarterback Joe Burrow. Last year's No. 1 pick, who is coming off a torn ACL, has a ridiculous amount of firepower at his disposal. Every skill position has at least a second-rounder listed as a starter, and now the Bengals have added 2021 first-rounder Ja'Marr Chase to the stacked lineup.
Cincinnati certainly has plenty of potential — including star running back Joe Mixon. The Oklahoma product has always had the talent of a top-five back since entering the league in 2017, but he's failed to truly live up to the hype on a consistent basis.
Mixon was limited to just six games last year and wasn't able to replicate the efficiency he enjoyed in 2018 and 2019. His numbers looked like those of a broken-down back.
The film showed another story, though.
Mixon hasn't lost a step, he was just stuck behind a sieve of an offensive line. The Bengals' offensive line was completely inept in both pass protection and run blocking. The offense never had a real chance to be anything but the "Joe Burrow Show" — and even that ended prematurely thanks to shoddy blocking.
Mixon is a hot topic entering this season. He produced over 1,424 yards and eight touchdowns two straight years, and then averaged just four yards per touch in 2020. Can he get back to his previous level with the rebuilt offensive line?
There's reason for both optimism and pessimism. Mixon is a big-bodied back who is smooth, smart, and more flexible through contact than given credit for. His production was no mistake. And theoretically, he's a great fit in Taylor's wide-zone scheme. We simply didn't see it last year as the line couldn't open running lanes.
Getting 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams back at left tackle will help tremendously. So will the free-agent signings of Quinton Spain and Riley Reiff. Ideally, the Bengals would've addressed the left guard and center positions, but Cincinnati has more depth at those spots than they did a year ago.
The blockers will of course impact the entire offense beyond Mixon. Burrow's effectiveness outside of the pocket will be limited as he recovers, and Mixon will likely catch more passes with Gio Bernard relocated to Tampa Bay and Burrow on the mend. That should be music to the ears of fantasy football managers.
It's stunning to see Mixon ranked as the 14th running back drafted, which places him in the late-second round in drafts. He's better than half the guys in front of him and produced with a worse quarterback in previous seasons. His upside is better than all but the unanimous top six backs.
Mixon projects as a low-end No. 1 back, which makes him an absolute bargain at the cost of a RB2. Grab him in your leagues and try to fit the Bengals into your viewing plans when the season kicks off. They'll bring excitement and plenty of scoring.
Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration