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The undeniably talented but controversial Joe Mixon is a true wildcard in the 2017 draft.
Evaluated from a pure football standpoint, Mixon's ability to impact the game as a runner, receiver and returner stands out even in a loaded running back class. Despite starting just five games in 2016, Mixon finished second nationally (to Stanford's Christian McCaffrey) in all-purpose yardage, averaging 194.25 yards per game and scoring 16 touchdowns to earn First Team All-Big-12 honors. This included 1,274 yards on the ground on just 187 carries (a 6.8 yard per attempt average) and scored six times in 2016 on plays of at least 60 yards - the most ever by a running back in Oklahoma's storied history. Further, in 2016 Mixon became the only player in school history (and the only player in the FBS last year) to score touchdowns as a runner, receiver, kick returner and passer in a single season.
This came on the heels of a splashy redshirt freshman campaign in which Mixon recorded 1,119 all-purpose yards and 11 touchdowns (including 753 yards and seven scores on the ground) after signing with the Sooners as a five star recruit and the No. 1 rated prep running back in the country a year earlier.
The reason for Mixon's "redshirt" in 2014 was not for injury or to learn the playbook, however. Mixon was suspended for the year by head coach Bob Stoops for punching a woman in a Norman deli. The altercation, which was caught on a video and released to the public this past December, shows Mixon initially getting shoved by a woman, Amelia Molitor. Mixon lunges at her in retaliation and after she slaps him, he connects with a vicious punch to her face that immediately floors her. Molitor suffered a broken jaw, eye socket and cheekbone in the incident. Mixon was charged with a misdemeanor and has since completed counseling and 100 hours of community service.
The Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters sued for access of the video, prompting the Oklahoma Supreme Court to rule that the city of Norman should release it. Mixon's attorneys did it first and included a statement from the running back.
"Mr. Mixon asked us to once again say he is sorry for the way he acted that night," a statement through his attorneys said. "He has publicly apologized to Ms. Molitor, her friends, his family, teammates, and the University. He hopes that his voluntary release of these recordings will help put this matter to rest."
Even after a pro day workout in March that rivaled Ezekiel Elliott (Cowboys) numbers from 2016, Mixon is not on the draft board of multiple teams, narrowing his chances of being drafted early.
Each NFL team will have to determine whether Mixon's apology (and the punishment levied against him since) is enough to overlook his mistake and consider adding him to the roster as a draft pick or free agent. Perhaps working in his favor is that Mixon had just turned 18 at the time of the incident and, at least publicly, has since been supported by Stoops and the Sooners' coaching staff.
STRENGTHS: Looks the part of a professional athlete with a muscle-packed frame, including well-built arms, knotted calves and a powerful lower half. Possesses terrific initial quickness and lateral agility for a player of his size, eluding defenders in close quarters with side-steps and jump-cuts and zipping through holes with instant acceleration and the speed to score from any point on the field. Mixon is a natural with the ball in his hands, showing excellent anticipation, vision and patience to set up his blocks as a running back and returner. He is more powerful than his tall frame might imply, lowering his shoulders into would-be tacklers and showing good leg drive, forward lean and determination to finish runs. He is stronger than he looks, showing good balance to absorb hits and keep his feet churning through contact. Mixon is a legitimate weapon as a receiver, showing above average hand-eye coordination to secure the ball without losing speed and is an accomplished route-runner, showing the agility and speed to create separation. He is younger than most prospects, not turning 21 until July 24.
WEAKNESSES: Though his agility and balance Mixon accelerates quickly but does not appear to have the elite breakaway burst to outrun pursuit angles from savvy defenders. He can get a little careless with the ball, holding the ball loosely and away from his frame, at times, and fumbled six times in two seasons with the Sooners (including three times against rival Texas in 2016).While muscle-bound, Mixon's tall frame could leave him more susceptible to injury than running backs with a shorter, more compact build. Mixon requires a thorough investigation into his character and may simply be taken off the board completely for some clubs given the heinous (and public) nature of the crime.
IN OUR VIEW: Mixon was reportedly given a first-round grade from the NFL Advisory Committee but this is based entirely on his play with no consideration given to his criminal history. Mixon will almost surely be selected much lower and perhaps even slip out of the draft entirely. Adding him to the roster would be a public relations nightmare but so too is trying to stop this dynamic athlete in the open field.
COMPARES TO: Matt Forte, New York Jets: Mixon is a more explosive athlete than the similarly built Forte (6-1, 217), who was selected 44th overall by the Chicago Bears out of Tulane in 2008. If given an opportunity to be the "bell cow" of an NFL offense, Mixon offers similar versatility as a runner and receiver as Forte, who has continued his career with the Jets and through nine seasons has 13,794 yards and 72 touchdowns combined through the ground and air.
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