Cincinnati Bengals Running Backs Preview
Perhaps the source of much ire from Cincinnati Bengals fans, Bengals running backs are an underrated group. Cincinnati’s offense tends to be pass-first, but this group has been able to capitalize on their opportunities…for the most part.
The 2022 roster of running backs for the Bengals will be similar if not the same as the 2021 roster. Cincinnati reaffirmed its support for these backs and will enter the season filled with playmakers. Joe Mixonwho could have a record year, Chris Evans and its cult following among fans, the Bengals running backs will be in prime position to succeed this year.
Preview of Cincinnati Bengals running backs ahead of training camp
Already a top-five running back, Mixon was one of the most prolific runners in Bengals history. Considering 1. Mixon missed 15 games and, 2. Cincinnati’s rich running back history, that’s saying something.
Hot Take: Joe Mixon will lead the league in rushing yards this season. pic.twitter.com/leHSl9ENCQ
— 𝗮𝘃𝗲𝗿𝘆 (@JaMarrJungle) July 19, 2022
Expectations were high as 2021 approached for Mixon. He had just come off a mere six-game season in 2020 and was finally fully healthy. Despite running behind the worst offensive line in football, Mixon passed for 1,205 yards and 13 touchdowns. Each mark was a career high and he finished third and fourth respectively in the NFL. Three times in 2021, Mixon has rushed over 100 yards. He was really hitting his stride between Weeks 7 and 12 where he ran for nearly 500 yards and nine touchdowns. He has scored at least once in six straight games and scored twice in three straight games.
For 2022, Mixon is ready to continue his escape. As has been repeated, the Bengals have greatly improved their offensive line. Also, defenses will respect Joe Burrow and his weapons on the outside. When it comes to facing the first-place schedule the Bengals have established, Mixon will face a bottom-half defense in eight games.
During Super Bowl LVI, the question that was repeated ad nauseam was “Where was Mixon on that last ride?” Cincinnati has a running back with pass protection and it’s not Mixon. This is an area where he needs to improve. Getting Mixon the ball via the pass is just another wrinkle for defenses. Bad place in 3rd and 1 aside, if Mixon was on the field, that changes everything.
After smashing records as a running back at the University of Oklahoma, Samaje Perine struggled to break into the NFL. He rushed for 603 yards but just one score in his freshman year for the Washington Commanders. Perine then passed for just 32 yards in five games the following year, which earned him a waiver. He joined the running backs of the Bengals, then was waived six weeks later and made part of the practice squad. The Miami Dolphins poached Perine, then waived him before the 2020 season. Cincinnati added Perine back and he’s called Cincinnati home ever since.
Over his next two years, Perine was an important part of the Bengals running back depth. He rushed for 549 yards and four touchdowns. Where Perine was most dangerous was as a receiver. He added 309 yards and two touchdowns as a receiver. None of those were more impressive or clutch than his massive 41-yard touchdown on a screen in the AFC Championship.
Perine is under contract for the 2022 season and there are no indications that the team would walk away from him. Perine will go to camp as RB2 but due to Evans’ athleticism, it’s possible Perine’s place in the pecking order could change.
The wildcard for these Bengals running backs is Michigan sophomore running back Chris Evans. Captain America or not, Evans was a clutch player given his RB3 rating. In Michigan, we always knew that he was special. As has been the case under Jim Harbaugh’s tenure, Evans’ athleticism has been criminally underutilized. He always split his time with another fullback during his first three years on campus. When Evans was about to take the next step and become full-back for Wolverines, he went through academic troubles and was kicked out of the team. After returning for a fifth season, Evans was selected by the Bengals in the sixth round of the 2021 draft.
Evans has a cult following within the Bengals fandom. The hype started with the selection and the belief that he has the legitimate skill to make a difference. That hype didn’t go away after he made a ridiculous catch for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions. On the year, Evans averaged over seven yards per touch.
In the future, Evans could make his way into the role of RB2. Additionally, Evans began returning kicks late in the year. During the Bengals playoffs, Evans passed for 23.4 yards per return. He’s a dynamic point guard, so Zac Taylor will be looking to get the ball into Evans’ hands in any way he can that doesn’t take anything away from his elite receivers.
Another former sixth-rounder, Trayveon Williams has a collegiate history of point guard abilities but has never put his feet under him in the NFL. At Texas A&M, Williams had elite freshman and junior years, rushing for 1,057 yards and 1,760 yards with eight and 18 touchdowns, respectively. He broke Aggie’s records and, like with Evans, he showed great athleticism.
Williams bounced between the active roster and practice squad during his three years as a pro. The overwhelming majority of his productivity came in 2020 as Mixon missed 10 games. Williams rushed for just 157 yards on 26 carries. He has yet to score in any way at the NFL level.
Assuming the health of the three ahead of him, Williams will likely be another practice squad in 2022.
The son of former heavyweight boxer Evander Holyfield, Elijah Holyfield made his name as part of a brace against Georgia alongside D’Andre Swift. He had a great junior year, rushing for 1,018 yards and seven touchdowns, and opted to enter the NFL Draft. After going undrafted, he signed with the Carolina Panthers. He spent 2019 with the Panthers, then was waived to be picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles. He bounced between active and inactive status until he was finally waived ahead of the 2021 season. Holyfield was picked up by Cincinnati and has been hidden in the practice squad ever since.
With the depth of running backs in the Bengals, there’s no reason to believe Holyfield’s future with the team will be much different.