Over the past several months, NFL teams have had to decide where they stand on Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon. Less so the player, one who is extremely talented and might turn into the best back in this year’s draft class. But more so the man and the one who punched a female OU student during a 2014 altercation.
Mixon has become the most fascinating study of this year’s draft, and there are reports of the New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins and other teams taking him off their respective draft boards. Then consider the strong words of New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan when asked if he was open to drafting the 6-foot-1, 226-pound Mixon, a first-round talent who accumulated 1,812 total yards and 15 touchdowns last season, at any point during the draft.
“There’s some things that are extremely egregious that I personally have a very hard time condoning,” Maccagnan said on Monday, via the New York Daily News. “And [domestic] violence in particular is a very serious thing to me. For me and my wife, we’ve had a personal experience with that. … We don’t take it lightly.”
If we’re splitting hairs, this was not by definition a case of domestic violence; Mixon and the woman he hit, Amelia Molitor, did not know each other prior to the incident. But it doesn’t reduce the severity of it.
Now the question comes with which team might take a chance on the talented but troubled back. Here are a few teams we think might be more apt to roll the dice:
The Bengals in recent years have had, shall we say, a certain moral flexibility with taking players that other teams have removed from consideration. That might be the best way to phrase it. Some of those moves have panned out; others were less successful. You can make a judgment about the team’s approach, but it had been a frequent playoff participant in recent years though one that never has won a postseason game under head coach Marvin Lewis.
With Lewis perhaps entering his final season in Cincy, with hints he could retire or that management might move on if the team doesn’t bounce back after a down season, it could be the perfect time to take a chance on a player with baggage. The Bengals need to upgrade the run game, as Jeremy Hill — who also had some character reg flags coming out — has not been the back many have expected.
The Bengals have done extensive work on Mixon, sources tell Shutdown Corner, and they might be more willing to consider him now that he has settled his suit with Molitor.
Highest they might draft Mixon: Second round (41st pick)
Green Bay Packers
This is expected to be a defense-heavy draft for the Packers, who were lit up at times last season on that side of the ball, including in the final two playoff games. But one way to keep the Super Bowl window open during Aaron Rodgers’ prime is to add an offensive weapon in Mixon, who is as adept at running as he is catching passes.
Yes, that might also describe Ty Montgomery, last season’s surprise breakout player who helped save the season in many ways. But the feeling is that Montgomery is not suited to be a 20-carry workhorse. Instead, a Mixon-Montgomery backfield could be a potent duo and would present some serious issues for a defense if they both appeared on the field together.
Would general manager Ted Thompson use a pick on Mixon? He might consider it. The Packers brought him in for a visit in March and were in attendance for his strong pro day performance. It’s hard, however, to believe Mixon would be in consideration for the team’s first-round selection.
Highest they might draft Mixon: Second round (61st pick)
The Vikings waved goodbye to Adrian Peterson and could face him in Week 1 with his new team, the New Orleans Saints, at U.S. Bank Stadium. Could the Vikings replace Peterson with another former Sooners back? It’s tricky. After all, beyond the college connection there also is the unfortunate violence connection between Mixon and Peterson, who was indicted for child abuse after he admitted using a “switch” on his 4-year-old son.
General manager Rick Spielman admitted that the Vikings have done “a lot of work” on Mixon and other prospects with questionable character. They’ll eliminate some for that reason, giving those players a “red dot” on their draft board if so, but he declined to say if Mixon is still a possibility to become a Viking. In fact, Spielman was pretty bottom line when he explained how the team will weigh talent vs. character risk in drafting players.
“Whether it’s fair or not, the less talented [a player is] and the more red flags [he has] probably the more likely [he is] going to get a red dot because is [his] talent worth the headache?” Spielman said, via the Star Tribune. “The higher [a player goes] up the draft board, you’re really going to do your diligence because you’re saying those guys are potential difference-makers on your team. They can help you win or lose games.”
Lacking a first-round pick might also complicate the situation, as taking Mixon in Round 2 — he might not be available then, but expecting him to slip to Round 3 would be unlikely — would put an even greater local focus on him and his questionable history. But the Vikings need more offensive firepower and could use a big-play option in what was a fairly pop-gun offense last season.
Highest they might draft Mixon: Second round (48th pick)
The Bucs are said to be doing their due diligence on the draft’s top RB options, including both Mixon and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, who also has his share of off-field concerns. This front office went deep on Jameis Winston before making him the top selection in the draft two years ago, saying it interviewed 75 people close to Winston, who was accused of rape at FSU.
Let’s assume they’ll devote similar resources in both Mixon and Cook if they believe in their talent, but it doesn’t guarantee that the front office will sign off on either or both. They brought in Mixon for a visit in early April and clearly are looking to upgrade at the position with Doug Martin set to serve three more games of a PED suspension to start the season after spending time in rehab this offseason.
There has been heavy chatter in league circles that the team is very much interested in moving down from its No. 19 overall selection in Round 1, and that lends even more credence to the possibility of taking a chance on either Cook or Mixon.
Highest they might draft Mixon: Somewhere between their first-round pick (19th) and their second-rounder (50th)
There’s no question that GM Howie Roseman would need ownership approval from Jeffrey Lurie if it were to entertain using a pick on Mixon, and there’s a belief that it might have been granted. The Eagles have taken character risks in the draft and free agency before, but they try their best to fully vet them and feel comfortable without making impulse decisions.
They have spent a lot of time looking at Mixon and might be interested, depending on what happens with their Round 1 selection. But running back is a need. Ryan Mathews is coming off a poor season and neck surgery to repair a herniated disk. Darren Sproles turns 34 before the season and appears to be in the twilight of his career. The Eagles might not view Wendell Smallwood as anything but a bit player coming off a nondescript rookie season.
Mixon’s pass-catching ability would be very appealing to an offense that wants to help out Carson Wentz as much as possible and is predicated on having a back who can operate as a receiver. We think there’s a real chance here.
Highest they might draft Mixon: Second round (43rd pick)
New GM Chris Ballard was part of scouting staff with the Kansas City Chiefs last year that signed off on Tyreek Hill, whose case has been compared to Mixon’s, even though Hill pleaded guilty to domestic assault and battery by strangulation involving his then-pregnant girlfriend. The risk, to date, has paid off — Hill was a big-play threat as a rookie after being taken in Round 5 and showed contrition and the desire to learn from his awful crime.
Could Ballard take a page from the Hill case in Indy? Perhaps. The Colts reportedly have not removed Mixon from draft consideration, and Ballard personally dug deep on Hill, Marcus Peters and Demarcus Robinson — all of whom came with signifiant character concerns — to find out what he needed about the players.
With Frank Gore winding down, the Colts need RB help. Could Gore also serve as a mentor for Mixon in Indy? It’s very possible.
Highest they might draft Mixon: Second round (46th pick)
Possible? Yeah — for all the reasons we laid out under the Colts. They’ve taken chances on these types of risks before, and they need a running back, so why not Mixon? We also heard that the Chiefs have done their homework on Mixon’s OU teammate, Dede Westbrook, who also enters the league with character baggage and red flags, for what that’s worth.
But drafting another high-profile player with a background of violence — even if they believe Mixon is a changed person — would invite an incredible amount of scrutiny, even for a smaller-market team. A team can take risks only so many times before it backfires.
Highest they might draft Mixon: Second round (59th pick)
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