Now Is the Time to Buy Joe Mixon in Fantasy Football

Fresh off a disappointing performance against the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals rookie running back Joe Mixon is a nice buy-low target in fantasy football.

The Cincinnati Bengals got their 2017 season off to a rather slow start. It's hard to feel good about things when it takes three weeks to score a touchdown.

That lackluster performance led to a change at offensive coordinator, with Bill Lazor taking over duties from Ken Zampese. There was no place to go but up for this offensive unit, but this shift potentially meant good things for rookie running back Joe Mixon, who has been on radars around these parts since Week 3. For example, when Lazor was with the Miami Dolphins from 2014 to 2015, he worked 109 targets (good for a 9.22% target market share) into in the offense for running back Lamar Miller.

Despite Cincy having three options in their backfield -- Mixon, Jeremy Hill, and Giovani Bernard -- the rookie easily has the brightest outlook moving forward.

Getting (and Taking Advantage of) an Opportunity

The table below details the number of snaps (along with the percentage in parenthesis) each running back has received this year, broken down by week.

Player Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Joe Mixon 22 (36%) 16 (25%) 34 (56%) 31 (48%)
Giovani Bernard 29 (48%) 33 (52%) 13 (21%) 21 (33%)
Jeremy Hill 10 (16%) 15 (23%) 14 (23%) 12 (19%)

As we can see, Mixon has become the leader in the Bengals' backfield since Week 3, taking nearly 50% of all snaps over the past two weeks. Clearly, the team is showing a commitment to getting the rookie involved, and Mixon now just needs to make the most of this playing time.

Who has been the most efficient of Cincy's running back trio? We can figure this out by using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which uses down-and-distance data to determine what is expected on each individual play. This metric doesn't directly tie into fantasy football, but it does tell us if a player is #GoodAtFootball. We can also take a look at each player's Success Rate, which is the percentage of their runs that result in a positive NEP.

Mixon is getting most of the work on the ground, and while his Rushing NEP per carry is the worst of the three, his Success Rate is currently outpacing everyone.

Player Rushes Rushing Yards Rushing NEP Rushing NEP per Play Success Rate
Joe Mixon 52 136 -7.04 -0.14 34.62%
Giovani Bernard 18 89 -2.01 -0.11 33.33%
Jeremy Hill 25 82 -0.90 -0.04 32.00%

It's also worth noting that although Bernard gets a lot of his work in the passing game, Mixon has been a factor through the air, too -- the rookie's 11 targets are right behind Bernard, who has 12. It also doesn't hurt that Mixon has caught all 11 of his targets, while Bernard's catch rate is currently 66.67%.

Offensive Line Issues

What's dragging down this trio at the moment is a bad offensive line. According to Football Outsiders, the Bengals' front five ranks as the second-worst unit in regards to run blocking while currently posting a league-worst 1.31 yards before contact per attempt.

The table below shows how each of Cincy's three runners are performing in two advanced metrics from PlayerProfiler, including yards created and yards created per touch. Yards created shows what the running back has done since his first evaded tackle, while yards created per touch breaks it down on a per-attempt basis. The positional rank for each is also included in parenthesis, so we can see which Bengals rusher -- all playing in the same environment -- has been able to overcome the inefficiencies of their offensive line.

Player Yards Created Yards Created Per Touch
Joe Mixon 128 (7th) 2.0 (13th)
Giovani Bernard 58 (34th) 2.2 (10th)
Jeremy Hill 40 (40th) 1.4 (31st)

Moving Forward

A great buy-low window has potentially presented itself following Week 4, when Mixon managed just 29 yards on 17 carries against a Cleveland Browns squad that has a bad overall defense. However, Cleveland's defense is actually much better against the run than they are the pass, per our metrics. Admittedly, it won't get any easier in Week 5 with a matchup against the Buffalo Bills is on tap.

Mixon is getting most of the opportunity in this backfield, appears to have the ability to make the most of it moving forward, and can make an impact both on the ground and in the air. With Mixon coming off a bad game in a pretty good spot versus Cleveland, now is the time to take advantage by buying into his value while it's lower than it should be.