Last season, Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard combined for 1,167 yards on 313 rush attempts for a combined 3.75 yards per carry average and added 11 rushing scores between the two of them. In his final season at Oklahoma, Joe Mixon averaged 6.8 yards per carry taking his 187 carries for 1,274 yards and 10 scores by himself. To put it simply, the Bengals backfield crowded, and as a rookie, Mixon has a real shot to take over the primary role if Hill's efficiency struggles continue. Let's take a look at where you'll have to draft these guys and whether their cost is worth the potential return.
Joe Mixon(ADP 36 overall RB18)
Arguably the most talented running back in the 2017 draft class, Joe Mixon has earned work with the first team offense in the preseason, rotating snaps with Jeremy Hill. Per Graham Barfield of FantasyGuru.com, Hill has been on the field for 31 of 66 offensive snaps with Andy Dalton under center, while Mixon has played 20 of 66 with Dalton on the field.
There's no doubt that Mixon has looked NFL-ready in his preseason work, shedding tacklers, juking top defenders out of their shoes (ahem, Josh Norman) and making an impact both as a runner and pass-catcher. Still, questions about his workload and usage remain:
How soon will the Bengals slot him into a featured role, if at all?
It seems like the team is intent on using Hill as the early-down back to start the year, from what we've seen in the preseason.
Will he get any goal line looks as long as Hill is healthy?
Hill is pretty much locked into the short-yardage and goal-line role, as long as he's healthy. (He punched one into the paint from three yards out against Washington)
Mixon's talent is off the charts, but the crowded backfield is worth questioning his current ADP at RB18. You'd have to draft him in the late-third, early fourth round so you'd likely be investing in him as your RB2. That's probably fair considering the upside of the Bengals' offense as a whole, combined with his ability to electrify the run game. Still, there are a couple of other rookie backs who should have a more immediate impact given their situations like Dalvin Cook and Kareem Hunt for about equal or less cost than Mixon in redrafts. The upside might be too tempting to pass up though.
Jeremy Hill(ADP 135 overall, RB48)
There's been a steady hum out of Bengals camp that hasn't changed course the entire offseason. The team has stuck with the narrative that Jeremy Hill will remain the early-down and goal line back in 2017. Even with a strong performance from Mixon in the preseason, we've seen nothing on the field to make us think otherwise. Hill has been the first running back on the field in all of the Bengals' preseason games and is indeed getting goal-line looks with the first team offense. With Mixon on the depth chart, the Bengals now have the luxury of using Hill solely for what he's good at -- converting on short-yardage situations and punching in touchdowns from a few yards out. As Rotoworld's Evan Silva pointed out earlier in the summer, the Bengals have ranked in the top 10 in both rushing attempts and red zone carries in each of the past three years.
This bodes well for Hill's outlook, even if his volume regresses with more talent in the backfield. Hill has enjoyed an over 220-attempt workload in each of his first three seasons, but I'm not the first to tell you he's been far from efficient with those looks, with a combined 3.7 yards per carry average in the last two years. It makes sense to limit Hill's workload given the depth behind him, and use him to his strengths. Sure, you've been burned by Hill in fantasy the last two seasons given his early-round asking price and his RB13 and RB19 finishes in standard scoring. But now, with Mixon in the mix (pun not intended, but it sort of works?) Hill's ADP has plummeted into the double-digit, and even teen rounds in some cases. He's worth an add for his touchdown upside alone, even if it's in a more limited role. Mixon may not get the keys to Cincy's backfield immediately which is something to keep in mind given the rookie's cost in redraft.
Giovani Bernard(ADP 195 overall, RB59)
Seemingly left for dead by fantasy managers, Giovani Bernard is at least worth a look in the final rounds as you're stashing bench players to bolster your depth. Coming off a season-ending ACL tear late last November, he saw his first preseason game action against Washington last weekend. A few weeks ago, it came as a shock to see that Bernard was practicing in full with Cincinnati following a speedy recovery from his knee injury. We sort of wrote him off, at least for the early part of the season and Mixon was anointed the savior of the Bengals backfield. But things have changed in the last few weeks, and now Cincy's backfield feels more crowded than ever.
Bernard has the skillset to be a fantasy asset -- in 2015 he was the RB21 in standard with over 1,200 scrimmage yards and a 4.7 yards per carry average. And he was averaging about nine touches per game before getting injured in 2016. The one knock against Bernard for fantasy is his low touchdown totals, because scoring is kind of important. He only rushed for two in 2015 and had three total scores in 10 games in 2016. And now with Mixon competing for snaps, those numbers for Gio are not going to increase. It's tough to imagine a scenario where Bernard would be a starting option on a fantasy roster unless Hill or Mixon get hurt.