Over the course of the next few weeks I will be looking back at the Bengals 2018 season. I will go position by position discussing the highlights along with the moments fans would like to forget heading into 2019. There will also be speculation about the potential future of each position.
The Cincinnati Bengals finally have themselves a legitimate top-end running back. Starter Joe Mixon quietly had himself a great season that didn’t quite get the attention it deserved. Finishing 4th in the league in rushing yards, Mixon rumbled his way to 1,168 yards on the ground. He added 296 receiving yards and 9 total touchdowns for his breakout campaign. Mixon achieved those numbers despite missing two game due to injury and being grossly underused in multiple other games throughout the season.
One of the lone bright spots in an otherwise dreadful season, Mixon showed why the Bengals invested a second round pick in him. Averaging just under 5 yards per carry, Mixon was the consistent force driving this offense at times. The speed and the power has always been there but lack of vision and and decisiveness led to a sub-par rookie year. I believe that is what led him to a breakout sophomore year. The future is bright for this young running back.
Stalwart Giovani Bernard was sort of the forgotten man in the Bengals backfield in 2018. The emergence of Mixon led to a step back in production for Bernard. He is usually a part of a split backfield is it is different for him to not get his touches in a season. Compiling only 429 total yards and 3 touchdowns, he became more of a back up to Mixon. He stepped in and performed very well when Mixon missed two games. Bernard was used to give Mixon breathers for the most of the season. If new head coach Zac Taylor figures out how to use him, Bernard can be one of the more dangerous complimentary running backs in the NFL.
The only other running back to receive carries in 2018 was rookie Mark Walton. I came away extremely unimpressed with Walton after the preseason. That feeling carried into the regular when he received some playing time. Carrying the ball 14 times for 34 yards, Walton didn’t show the explosion and big play ability he had in college. With a new coaching staff taking over, it will be interesting to see how the talented running back is used going forward.
Going into the 2019 season there is no reason to make any changes to the running back room in Cincinnati. Joe Mixon is on his way to becoming one of the most dynamic running backs in the entire league. The patience he uses in the backfield is very Le’Veon Bell-esque but he has not mastered it the way Bell has. With all of his athletic traits and the continued development of finer points of the position; Mixon will be among the elite at his position.
As far as the depth at the running back position is concerned, there is no concern for the Bengals heading into the offseason. Bernard will be back and is one of the more talented back ups around. Bernard is a very difficult matchup for any defense. He is lightning quick, sees the field well, and is a very dangerous receiving weapon. The perfect compliment to the physicality of Mixon. This duo is oozing with potential and hopefully have a head coach that knows how to capitalize on it.
Walton and fellow 2018 rookie Quinton Flowers are the only other running backs currently on the roster. They present intriguing options themselves. Walton has the ability to be a solid option in the run game should Mixon or Bernard get hurt again. Flowers, an explosive playmaker as a quarterback in college, made the switch to running back to give himself a better opportunity in the NFL. With a full offseason under his belt, don’t count Flowers out to see the field at some point in 2019.
The Bengals have one of the most talented backfields in football but never get that sort of recognition. Mixon will be the driving force of this team in 2019. Look for him to take on a similar role to Todd Gurley of the Rams since Taylor will be bringing the L.A. offense to Cincinnati. There will be a great opportunity to build on his breakout 2018. The talent behind Mixon isn’t lacking even though the numbers and even the film was disappointing. The coaching staff could change everything for a lot of players, particularly offensive skill players. Mixon, Bernard, Walton, and possibly Flowers form a group that should intimidate any defense.