I spoke with Mel Kiper for an upcoming project, and during the conversation we also spoke about what will be one of the biggest stories in the upcoming draft: what will happen to Joe Mixon? Kiper was gracious enough to provide his thoughts on how the former Oklahoma running back was being evaluated as a player based on the tape, and then, how the notorious off-the-field incident where Mixon punched a female student at a restaurant in Norman, Okla., breaking bones in her face, would affect where he is selected.
“On talent, he’s the best running back in the draft. On talent, and on ability, the kid averaged over 6 yards a carry in 9 games this year, he averaged almost 15 yards a catch, he had a 97-yard kickoff return against Ohio State, he’s 228 pounds and he ran 4.43. He was a top kid coming out of high school, so he’s an elite–like [Leonard] Fournette–to me he’s a better back than Fournette, on talent.
Now you factor in the off-the-field issue, which was as you know, very serious … “
Mixon entered into a plea agreement three years ago. He was suspended and redshirted during what would have been his true freshman season in 2014, and played for Oklahoma each of the last two years, before declaring for the NFL Draft. The 2014 assault was brought back into the public consciousness (and achieved a greater level of scrutiny) in December when a judge ordered that the surveillance video of the incident could be released publicly. Everyone was able to see Mixon punching the woman. As with other high-profile cases, the presence of video has raised the outcry over Oklahoma’s initial handling of the incident.
That outcry included discussion of whether Mixon would even be drafted. The 2017 draft includes three backs widely projected to go in the first round: Fournette, Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey. Fournette is almost universally projected in the Top 10, so Kiper saying that Mixon is ahead of Fournette based on talent puts him in elite territory (Fournette has consistently been in the Top 10 in Kiper’s mock drafts),
Mixon revealed that he was given a first-round grade by the Draft Advisory Committee when he declared, so it’s not like that is an extreme position based just on the tape. Remember, those draft grades given to underclassmen are based entirely on tape review, and do not include assessments of character, interviews with teams, or medical information.
Still, we know that Mixon’s history will impact his draft position, and it’s a question of how much. Here’s Kiper:
‘Initially, I thought he would be a third-round pick. . . . I went on ESPN and said third round. Then, I kept hearing, ‘ain’t gonna get to the third round, he’s a second-rounder.’ Then you hear maybe late first. . . . Teams like Oakland at 24, Green Bay, those type of teams would I think at least be possibilities. If you had to say, ‘where do you think?’ I don’t think he goes any later than in the second.”
“The kid’s gonna play in the NFL. He’s not gonna be barred from the NFL. So, does it really matter if he is third-round pick, a fifth-round pick, or a first-round pick? I mean, he’s going to be playing in the league.”
If Mixon is really seen as a top 10 talent based on film, a clear first-round talent, then (my words, not Mel’s), he’s not falling too far. That’s just the reality of this. If teams collectively let him slip further and further in the draft, then the team that decides to deal with the loud outcry over drafting Mixon will in turn get a first-round talent for a progressively cheaper investment.
We saw that last year with Tyreek Hill, a player who fell to the fifth round after getting kicked out of Oklahoma State for choking his pregnant girlfriend. There was no video of the Hill incident, but the underlying allegations were at least as troubling as with Mixon. One scout was quoted as saying that Mixon “isn’t half the douchebag that [Hill] was.” Toward the end of the season, fans in Kansas City were chanting Hill’s name in games as he finished with 12 total touchdowns and was the team’s most dynamic playmaker.
If Kiper is hearing from people around the league that he will be gone before the third round, that’s a pretty good gauge as to when it will happen. By Friday night of the draft, the focus on the team that drafted Joe Mixon could explode. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that it could happen in prime time Thursday.