Joe Mixon belongs in the same breath with Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley as one of the top-tier running backs in the NFL, according to Cincinnati Bengals teammate A.J. Green.
Green’s assessment came shortly after Mixon rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown and reeled in five receptions for 54 yards in the Bengals’ 34-23 season-opening victory versus the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Mixon’s 149 all-purpose yards included several big gains, notably a pair of plays of at least 20 yards.
The second-year player’s performance gave Green enough evidence to place him alongside some pretty lofty company.
“You mention him with Le’Veon or Gurley. He’s there with those guys,” said Green, who finished with six receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown.
Bell, who has yet to sign his franchise tag with the Pittsburgh Steelers, ran for 1,291 yards and a career-high nine touchdowns last season while catching a personal-best 85 passes for 655 yards and two scores. He was third in the NFL in rushing yards and 10th in receptions.
Gurley is coming off a monstrous season in 2017 in which he led the Los Angeles Rams to the NFC West title. The 23-year-old became the first Rams player to win the AP Offensive Player of the Year award since Marshall Faulk in 2001 after leading the league in touchdowns (19), points scored among non-kickers (114) and scrimmage yards (2,093) in addition to finishing second in rushing yards (1,305).
Mixon’s rookie campaign in 2017 didn’t start so well, as he was restricted by a crowded backfield for the first seven weeks before a season-ending ankle injury to Jeremy Hill resulted in a bigger workload.
The 22-year-old Mixon finished with 178 carries for a team-best 626 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games since being selected by the Bengals in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
An upgraded offensive line should prove dividends for the Bengals, who added first-round pick Billy Price out of Ohio State and tackle Cordy Glenn in the offseason.
For his part, Mixon credited his line for his performance on Sunday.
“I’m very excited. Marvin (Lewis) came in here (at half) and told us to settle down. Can’t beat ourselves,” the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Mixon said. “We re-grouped and went one drive at a time. The line was great. They were grinding it and pounding it.”
Mixon and the Bengals (1-0) will play their home opener on Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens (1-0), who breezed to a 47-3 romp over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
Mixon rushed 18 times for 96 yards in the Bengals’ 31-27 win over the Ravens on Dec. 31.
— S Shawn Williams, who is a defensive captain, was ejected after hitting Colts quarterback Andrew Luck in the back of the helmet during the first quarter.
— LB Preston Brown, who had 144 tackles last season with the Buffalo Bills, had five before being limited with an ankle injury.
— QB Andy Dalton rebounded after being intercepted on his first throw to finish 21 of 28 for 243 yards with two touchdowns on Sunday.
— RB Giovani Bernard was limited to just one carry for minus-2 yards on Sunday. Bernard finished second on the team in carries (105) and rushing yards (458) last season.
— LB Nick Vigil had a team-high 11 tackles on Sunday.