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Cincinnati Bengals

Ross gets the attention, but Mixon is the key to success on offense

James Rapien

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The Bengals had one of the worst offenses last season. They were last in yards and scored seven points or less in five of their 16 games.

Wide receiver John Ross hopes to be part of the solution. Ross was picked ninth overall by the Bengals in the 2017 NFL Draft. He played 17 total snaps as a rookie, battled injuries and didn’t catch a pass.

There have been plenty of stories written about Ross this week and rightfully so. He’s healthy and ready to contribute in 2018.

“I feel better. I feel like I can contribute more,” Ross told me earlier this week. “I know it’s only day one, but I feel good. I feel fresh. I feel strong.”

I’m not sure anyone in the Cincinnati media believes in Ross more than me. I’ve praised the Bengals for drafting him when they did. He will give the offense a tremendous boost as long as he can stay healthy. As important as the former first round pick is, he isn’t the key to turning this offense around.

If the Bengals are going to regain their 2015 form, they’re going to need Joe Mixon to breakout this season. Andy Dalton hasn’t played with a 1,000 yard rusher since Jeremy Hill ran for 1,124 yards as a rookie in 2014. I like Ross and Tyler Eifert. Heck, I think Tyler Boyd has untapped potential, but this team needs Mixon to be great.

The Bengals took Mixon because they believed he was a bell-cow running back. They loved his size and speed, along with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He has all of the tools to be a star in the NFL.

You may be wondering about the offensive line, which has been a weakness for the past two seasons. It may not be a strength this season, but the additions of Cordy Glenn and Billy Price should make them competent. The organization believes new offensive line coach Frank Pollack will get the most out of Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Fisher, Christian Westerman and the rest of the linemen.

Mixon was drafted in a class with Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt. Every single one of those backs performed well during their rookie seasons. Yes, Cook did suffer a season-ending injury on October 1, but he would’ve been a key cog for Minnesota down the stretch and flashed his potential before his injury.

I believe the Bengals had Mixon right next to Fournette on their draft board. They could’ve had Cook, but they passed. They could’ve selected Hunt or Kamara, who would’ve brought less controversy with them, but they didn’t. They drafted Mixon. They think he can be a star in the league. He has more talent than any running back that Dalton has played with. Greg Cosell of NFL Films thought Mixon was the “most complete” running back in the 2017 NFL Draft. Mixon averaged 3.5 yards-per-carry as a rookie, which was the lowest out of the aforementioned running backs. The Bengals need him to take it to another level in his second season.

Running the ball effectively would alleviate pressure on Dalton, Ross and even A.J. Green. The offense has been overly reliant on Green in recent seasons. It’s up to Mixon to have success on the ground. The Bengals got a first-round talent with the 48th pick in 2017 and they need him to play like it.

“The reason we’re talking about Joe Mixon so much is, he’s a special talent,” Mel Kiper said before the 2017 NFL Draft. “He’s a top-10 pick without an issue. He’s ahead of Leonard Fournette, without an issue. He’s ahead of Dalvin Cook, without an issue. He’s ahead of Christian McCaffrey, without an issue.”

Mixon had an issue. The Bengals took a risk when they drafted him. So many fans look back at the 2017 draft and wonder about the Ross pick, but the Mixon pick was just as risky. Most of the top running backs in that class had a better rookie season than Mixon. He was playing behind a poor offensive line, but that can’t be an excuse this year. Mixon needs to be great if the Bengals are going to make the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Everyone believes he has the talent, now it’s time to prove it.

For more, listen to today’s Locked on Bengals podcast:

James covers the Cincinnati Bengals for ESPN 1530 and 700 WLW in Cincinnati. He hosts shows on both stations, including Cincy 3:60 from 12pm-1pm daily on ESPN 1530. He is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati. Feel free to email him your ideas, fantasy football questions and hot takes.

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