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Is Joe Mixon's high risk worth the theoretical upside?

Mixon's easy on the eyes, but nearly impossible to root for.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

In a running back class that offers so much depth, it is the small things that can separate prospects from each other. Joe Mixon is a perfect example where it is easy to fall for his upside but just as easy to be scared away from taking him high due to things on and off the field. Mixon had a very nice season in Oklahoma splitting carries with Samaje Perine. In seeing an increased workload after being a change up back in 2015, he posted over 1800 yards of offense and 15 total touchdowns, despite only touching the ball 224 times. His eight yards per touch was one of the best figures in the class and only behind Curtis Samuel among top running backs. When you flip on a game, it is not hard to see how he was so productive.

Mixon is a bigger back, weighing 230 pounds and listed at 6-foot-1. So it is pretty incredible to see his ability to move laterally and explode upfield so effortlessly. He consistently forces defenses to guess where he'll be next and capitalizes on slow thinking defenders to create splash plays. Mixon is a truly incredible athlete.

Once again, with him being 230 pounds, having that type of agility and acceleration is pretty incredible. It is easy to see why so many people say Mixon is among the best backs in the class.

His athletic ability also allows him to create yardage where a lot of backs would not be able to find it. Yes, he stops his feet here, but his athleticism allows him to compensate in reversing the play and picking up a big gain.

Mixon is an amazing athlete and that affords him a lot of opportunities to create yardage at the college football level, but he also makes a lot of questionable plays that give pause to how much his game translates to the NFL. Even the above play raises questions. Texas Tech is easily among the worst defenses in college football and lots of runners have had their career days against them, so it makes one wonder if Mixon is able to make that play against any other team, let alone an NFL defense. He completely stops his feet and the back side of the defense is wide open. The chances a defender does not capitalize on him being totally stationary and gives up the back side like that is rare.

However, and I have argued this many times, running back is a high bandwidth position due to volume, and you take the highs you can get, even if they're not necessarily replicable.

The issue is that Mixon has a very bad tendency to guess wrong at the line of scrimmage and too often stops his feet in hopes of redirection.

He slows up here when he sees the blocking breaking down, but fails to redirect and ends up with a minimal gain. He is a 230 pound running back, but he makes himself seem so much smaller due to his finesse running style.

Once again, he slows up and depends on his speed/acceleration to redirect him instead of agility. This stoppage allows the defense to flow to him and he does not have the power to break tackles at low speed.

These plays may seem like cherry picking, but Joe Mixon gained either negative or no yards on nearly 20 percent of his carries. This figure nearly doubles his teammate, Samaje Perine, and is much more than a lot of the top backs in the class.

Here is a play where he actually guesses wrong initially but is saved by his athletic ability. One questions if he will consistently be able to make up for that poor vision in the NFL. Because despite the fact that he is able to get by on God-given gifts, too often due plays look like this.

Luckily, there is a surefire way to get Mixon out in the open field where his ability is most effective and that is as a receiver.

Mixon has really good hands to complement his incredible speed, making him a match up nightmare as a receiver. This alone makes him a valuable weapon for an offense, as he picked up 494 of his 547 receiving yards up after the catch.

When evaluating Mixon, it is impossible to look past the massive black mark on his career. Mixon was suspended his entire season when he assaulted a woman and broke her jaw. The assault came when Mixon tried to confront the woman's friend, who was hurling slurs at him. He used a gay slur, which provoked the woman to intervene with Mixon, pushing him in hopes of getting her friend in the clear. Mixon reacted horribly as no 230 pound athlete, or anyone really, should react to a situation of the sort. Mixon failed to apologize for the incident for almost two years until a brutal video was released to the public of the incident. One would hope that Mixon's horrific actions were just terrible judgement as a younger man, but a recent incident would just suggest that Mixon has trouble dealing with his anger.

It is impossible to divorce a player from the person they are, and Mixon's history of poor judgement and violence would make it impossible to take him with a high pick. Not that it should dictate how this risk analysis is made, but Mixon is still a project of a player. He is a great athlete and his ability is dynamic, no doubt, but we are not talking about a player who is a first round pick on the field. There is truly no good reason Mixon should be taken in the first round.

NFL Comparison

Joe Mixon's physical gifts, but lack of polish as a running back, is reminiscent of Tevin Coleman. Coleman was a bigger runner out of Indiana who made his money off of his incredible athletic ability. He did not have great vision, balance or natural strength, but his speed allowed him to get away with a lot. Coleman has developed nicely for the Falcons into a home run threat type change up in their running game and a dynamic chess piece in their passing game. Mixon could start his NFL career similarly and absolutely has the potential to develop into a top back.

Despite a fit in the Eagles scheme, Mixon would be an uncomfortable fit in the Eagles locker room. His history is worrisome and mixing him in with a locker room that already has a lot of questionable characters may set a bad dynamic. Without getting too preachy, Mixon creates an uncomfortable situation off the field that should really deflate his value in the draft. Without his off field problems, Mixon would be a great day two pick, but it would be hard rationalizing taking him before day three given his history.

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