Greg Cosell's NFL draft preview: On the field, Joe Mixon is most complete RB prospect in this draft

A lot has been said about Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon off the field, and some teams will take him off their draft board for a 2014 incident in which he punched a woman.

While teams will have to make that decision on how to weigh Mixon’s off-field issues, for this piece I’m focusing on the evaluation of Mixon only as a player, based on film study. And on film, he’s one of the most complete NFL prospects among running backs in the draft. Based solely on film, Mixon is a better overall prospect than Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, who is projected by almost everyone to go in the first round. Mixon might not be the same kind of runner as LSU’s Leonard Fournette, who I reviewed here, but Mixon has very good all-around skills.

Joe Mixon rushed for 1,274 yards and had 538 yards receiving last season. (AP)
Joe Mixon rushed for 1,274 yards and had 538 yards receiving last season. (AP)

Here’s what I see as Mixon’s on-field strengths and weaknesses:

STRENGTHS

As a runner, there’s a fluidity to Mixon’s movement. He has quick cutting ability, lateral quickness and balance to make penetrating defenders miss in the backfield. He also has vision and patience as a runner with the burst to get through the point of attack, and the speed to get to the perimeter.

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This play, a 32-yard touchdown against Houston, showed off Mixon’s short-area acceleration to clear the second level of defense.

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Mixon has a fluid, lateral running style with a subtle, darting, slashing element. His lateral agility in confined space will be a big plus in the NFL. He also showed an innate feel for pressing the hole and influencing second-level defenders.

What gives Mixon a boost as a prospect is the rest of his game. He’s quite versatile.

He has good blitz recognition and blocking execution. He even spent time as a lead blocker in two-back sets with fellow OU running back Samaje Perine and one-back sets on quarterback draws. Mixon also is a natural catcher with good hands and run-after-catch ability as a receiver out of the backfield. He has good route running ability with lateral quickness to beat linebackers on option routes.

He ran seam routes out of the backfield for some big plays. Here’s a 60-yard catch against Houston, in which he beats the defense deep and makes a nice play to haul in the catch with one hand.

(YouTube.com/OneHourFootball)
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(YouTube.com/OneHourFootball)

And here’s a 56-yard touchdown catch against Texas Tech.

(YouTube.com/BIg12DigitalNetwork)
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Mixon can detach from the formation and run receiver routes. Whatever Mixon’s NFL team wants him to do, he’ll be able to execute it. He displayed a lot of skills at Oklahoma.

WEAKNESSES

Teams want to see a running back hit it up inside and grind out tough yards, because that’s a lot of what the NFL running game is. At times, Mixon would look for the big play and not hit it up inside.

There were times he’d search and wait for gaps to appear – a style that Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers is well known for – but he’d often get stuck without getting the needed positive yards. Mixon’s vision could be inconsistent at times, not seeing creases and holes back to the inside, and despite his size (about 6-foot-1, and 228 pounds) there were snaps in which you wouldn’t see the natural power to shock the box and move the pile.

When the box is heavy, teams will have to question if Mixon can be consistent in gaining tough, sustaining yards. He has the skills to do it, but needs more experience to develop the feel for that part of the game.

TRANSITION TO NFL

Mixon’s size-speed-traits profile is the best of any back in this draft class. He reminds me a bit of David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals, though the running and receiving styles are different – Mixon is more subtly fluid and shifty while Johnson is more laterally abrupt and physical. Another NFL comparison for Mixon could be Matt Forte. Like Forte, Mixon is a comfortable, unhurried runner.

Mixon has the size and overall skills to fit in any scheme. He’s not as explosive as Cook but his receiving skills are apparent on film, while Cook’s is not. Obviously there’s more to the Mixon draft decision for teams than just film. But what teams will see when they watch his college tape is pretty good.

More NFL draft breakdowns from Greg Cosell:
Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky
Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer
Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes and Cal QB Davis Webb
LSU RB Leonard Fournette
Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey

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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.

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