Sifting Through the Smoke: Joe Mixon and the Vikings

This post originally appeared on Purple PTSD.

The Minnesota Vikings opened voluntary workouts at Winter Park this week, marking the beginning of “official” offseason activities. Each year, the climax of the Super Bowl seems to be followed more closely by the start of these workouts and team activities.

What we consider the “offseason” is just one part of the NFL’s shift to a year-round schedule. As soon as the winner hoists the Lombardi trophy, analysts turn to the college tapes in anticipation of the NFL Draft. The start of free agency may come before the rush of collegiate speculation, but this is the time of the year to fawn over favorite players and potential picks.

A name oft-floated around the Vikings is Joe Mixon — the troubled, yet über-talented running back out of Oklahoma. For some, he’s a surefire selection if available when the Vikings pick at No. 48. But for others, he’s an untouchable prospect with too many disqualifying questions to land in Minnesota.

Joe Johnson of Purple PTSD recently asked me to investigate Mixon; what I thought of him as a player, whether I think he’s a good fit for the offense, and whether or not the team’s interest in the former Sooner is more than “smoke.” After the jump, I’ll break it down, one question at a time.

What do you think of Joe Mixon, the player?

Drew Mahowald already broke down Mixon’s game, but it’s clear to anyone watching — the guy can play. He called Mixon “the best running back in the class,” and most professional analysts would tell you the same thing. Dane Brugler, my favorite of the bunch, had this to say about Mixon:

[quote_box_center]”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.”[/quote_box_center]

I think that sums up the whole situation perfectly, but we’ll address the off-field concerns later in the post. Right now, we’re talking buzz words like “first round talent” and “dynamic athlete.” On the field, Mixon is just that; a true heir to his Oklahoma contemporary, Adrian Peterson. He’s who some call the next Le’Veon Bell, a player I’ve always wanted in Minnesota purple and gold. Landing Mixon, the football player, would be a dream come true for the Vikings.

Brugler actually mocked Mixon to Minnesota in his latest prediction, citing the fact that Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer were the only general manager-head coach combo at Oklahoma’s recent pro day. He called Mixon a top-15 talent, and from a pure football standpoint, there’s no better back available in this year’s crop of premier talent.

Still, Mixon’s game isn’t without its flaws. Lance Zierlein warns that playing in the Big 12 hurt Mixon’s rushing style; the conference’s weaker defenses allowed Mixon to rely more on superior ability than vision or feel for the game. Such habits could result in struggles for Mixon at the pro level, especially behind weaker offensive lines like those in Minnesota. Despite these issues—all correctable in the NFL—Mixon would walk into Winter Park as the most talented running back on the roster.

Does he fit in Minnesota’s offense?

It’s simple: Joe Mixon is a fit in any professional offense. Before his 21st birthday, Mixon will have already rushed for 2,000 yards and scored 15 touchdowns on the ground. He’s also caught 65 passes for 894 yards over his two-year Oklahoma career, adding another 22 kick returns and a touchdown to his impressive resumé.

In Minnesota, Mixon has the potential to wear a number of different hats. He’s Jerick McKinnon, but with elite size and Power-5 pedigree. He doesn’t just catch the football; he’s a “devastating” pass-catching option. He’s an excellent route runner, a willing pass protector, and has the ability to turn straight-line opportunities into big-time scores. With his skill set, Mixon is a kick returner, a running back, and a spot slot receiver on a unit desperately in need of explosive playmakers.

Smoke or genuine interest?

Here’s where things get fun. Mixon is the draft’s most talented running back, but he’s also the class’s biggest question mark. He’s reportedly met with 15 teams, though all 32 are likely interested in the Sooners’ immense talents. If you ran one of the league’s franchises, wouldn’t you at least consider adding Mixon to your roster, even with his off-field baggage?

More importantly, are any of the 15 reported teams truly interested in drafting Mixon? My gut says, “Yes, most definitely.” And of those teams, Minnesota’s pursuit has been the most transparent.

Mike Zimmer’s appreciation for the player is obvious, and all reports indicate every meeting with Mixon has gone well. Landing Mixon at pick No. 48 would make complete football sense for the Vikings, but from a public relations lens, the move would only damage the franchise’s reputation.

This is a team fresh off the Adrian Peterson era with an opportunity to move past the drama created by their once-great running back. The nightmare he orchestrated two years ago—his child abuse charges, Twitter meltdown, and unceremonious return—skewed public perception and hurt his stock with the Vikings’ fanbase.

Despite the drama, Zimmer and Spielman made every effort to mend wounds with Peterson, traveling to his Houston home and convincing the face of the franchise to return before the 2015 season. They’ve shown a commitment to uniquely talented football players with checkered pasts, but that’s not necessarily an indicator of their potential selection of Mixon.

Sure, there are parallels: Both went to Oklahoma, both are top running back prospects, and both carry off-field baggage. It wouldn’t shock me if the Vikings were legitimately interested in Mixon, but I have doubts around their realistic, draft day commitment to using a second-round pick on him.

Mixon has Peterson-like potential, but there’s no way Minnesota makes the mistake of drafting yet another running back with probable public relations consequences. There will be plenty of backs available late in this year’s draft, and though they don’t possess Mixon’s rare talents, have the skills to make viable contributions to Minnesota’s offense.

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Austin Belisle

Austin Belisle is the West Coast's biggest Vikings fan, a football diehard cheering on the purple and yellow from sunny California. After graduating from San Jose State University in 2014, he began working full-time in corporate marketing and blogging on various sports websites. Austin's passion for the Vikings led him to Vikings Territory, where he hopes to share his lifelong enthusiasm for the team with readers on a daily basis. You can follow him on Twitter @austincbelisle

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  1. The more I read about the draft, the more sure I become that someone will risk the mixon bag of emotions from fans during the second or third round. He’s been apologetic about what he did, other guys who have done similar or worse things have been given not only a chance but a second and third chance in the NFL and no revelation of a second abuse have ever been revealed so I think he’s learned from it and won’t do it again.
    I think the Vikings are interested and would be excited with him in Purple, I can’t come off the take I had weeks ago – no earlier then the fourth round for him. Maybe if there weren’t all the other needs on the roster that there are then I would be more flexible but with everything in mind I can’t do it.
    To sum up:
    Yes – fourth round, no earlier.
    Check out http://www.purplebizonsports.com to see who I think may or should be on the radar for the Vikings with a week to go until the draft!

  2. Mixon is not even the best guy on his own team. Please Odin, let this be a Zim-Zam head fake before drafting RB, Oklahoma, SAMAJE PERINE!!! Watch the tape. This dude is literally the second coming of Beast Mode. He likes to hurt people. The entire KU defense literally gives up on trying to tackle him. NFL defenders will make the same business decision.

    Consolation prize: D’onta Foreman, 4.4 40 at 240. Dude’s name just looks right on a purple jersey. Give him #44 and we all go looking through the back of our closets. Go Vikes!

  3. I think I’ve put myself in the crowd that doesn’t want to see Mixon end up a Viking come draft day. I just don’t know how to feel about the guy. If it was clearly just the one bar incident I might be more open to him. As stupid as that was. it was more reactionary than pre-meditated…but still, come on dude, walk away, call the cops on the girl if she’s the one hitting you and you have witnesses all over to back that up. I’m getting more concerned now because you have both the traffic ticket incident, and this new high school report, despite the father basically recanting everything. At some point you start to get a “where there’s smoke there’s fire vibe,” and we have three different accounts now of the guy showing some kind of violent action towards a woman.
    There are plenty of talented backs to choose from this year, personally I’ld rather hear commentators talking about James Conner beating cancer on Sundays than Mixon beating on a woman. Perine and Foreman are also great options as mentioned above, I’m intrigued by Tarik Cohen, an even smaller Darren Sproles type player who I think Shurmer would find a nice role for.

  4. No way Mixon is better then Murray. The guy we just signed for three years. We have much bigger needs the RB. Center, Guards, QB, WR and some DL.

  5. I don’t see anyway they take him at 48 ~ Now if he is there say in the 3rd round then maybe ~ If he is there in the 4th round you give the guy a chance and with very little money involved and he didn’t cost a 1st or 2nd round pick ~

    Now I could always be wrong and I want go jump off a bridge if the Vikings did pick him at 48 ~ Adding him to Murray and McKinnon would be fun to watch plus Murray’s contract is work so the Vikings could release him if he isn’t the RB they believe he is or if he is injured once again with very little cap hit ~ And Mckinnon will be a FA in 2018 ~ So the Vikings could make sense if they draft him ~

    But as it was pointed out above many fans didn’t care if AP ever came back after his child abuse case ~ And I was one of them ~ Now in this case Mixon has stayed out of trouble since then so I do believe in second chances ~