Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens RB Joe Mixon (Bengals): Flashes of the Exceptional

Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio NFL Lens showcases a cutback run by Bengals running back Joe Mixon on a play where he only succeeded because of his exceptional physical traits.

You don’t cut back on a gap play. That’s the guideline with running power, trap, counter or toss. The marshaling of resources to create the intended crease on a gap play often leads to an all-or-nothing situation.

Runners are taught to hit gap plays hard and with little hesitation at the line of scrimmage. The only manipulation from the back comes when he must set up his lead blockers — dramatic stop-starts and wide-angled lateral cuts are discouraged because they are generally unhelpful to the success of the play design.

On this run behind the pulling left guard to the right side fo the Steelers’ defensive front, Mixon showcases how his quickness can be the exception to the rule. While true that there’s a nice backside gap that opens, the fact that Mixon can stop his feet on a play of this type and restart with an unblocked defender a few yards away is a testament to his acceleration.

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Although the front side of this play has the potential to be well-blocked, Mixon knows that the defensive end comes free and is waiting with a good angle. he While there are a lot of NFL starters who could work past the first defender, it’s his acceleration to slide outside the defensive back near the line of scrimmage that turns this into a big play.

Although already quick, the fact that Mixon lost weight this off-season to get a little quicker leads one to wonder if he can transcend the play of his offensive line and produce like a top performer. He’ll need a lot of runs of this type do that and it’s best not to count on it.

However, as the line improves, Mixon’s ability to make these plays on occasion will force opposing defenses to bring its defensive backs into the fray more often and open up the passing game. Exceptional talents force opponents to overcompensate to stop those talents.

When you watch college tape and see players capable of these moments repeatedly, you don’t want to automatically assume it will happen in the NFL. But if you see it happen against a top defense with certain early-round athletes, or in the NFL early in his career (like above), it’s worth considering the player has exceptional talent that can force that overcompensation from opponents doesn’t show up with basic charting or box score data.

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