Joe Mixon Departs for NFL: What That Means for the Oklahoma Offense

Samaje Perine enjoyed a fantastic career as a Sooner and, given the wear and tear running backs endure week to week, the timing for his departure to the NFL is right. Joe Mixon’s decision was a bit more convoluted.

Even though Mixon has all the physical tools and skill to be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft, the public release of the video showing him punching female Oklahom student Amelia Molitor in August 2014 will negatively impact his draft status.

In spite of the significant headwinds he might face, however, Mixon decided yesterday to leave Oklahoma and turn pro. Here’s a look at the decision and the impact it will have on the Oklahoma offense.

Jan 2, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Joe Mixon (25) takes selfies with fans after defeating the Auburn Tigers in the 2017 Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Oklahoma won 35-19. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Mixon Chooses to Get Paid, but Will He?

There is no doubt that Joe Mixon is a tremendous talent. In a short but productive Oklahoma career, Mixon eclipsed DeMarco Murray and is now Oklahoma’s single-season career multipurpose yardage leader with 2,331 multi-purpose yards in 2016.

Like Murray, Mixon is a gifted runner who is also a productive receiver, qualities that NFL scouts highly value in running backs looking to make the transition to the NFL. Mixon was also a durable athlete who enjoyed a relatively injury-free career.

But, Mixon’s stellar career is marred by controversy, namely the devastating assault of student Amelia Molitor during a late-night argument at a popular Norman night spot. After a couple of years of legal wrangling, the video was finally released to the public several weeks ago, and its impact on Mixon’s pro prospects could be severe.

The NFL is particularly sensitive to violence against women. The public release of the video showing former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s assault on his then fiancee destroyed Rice’s career. Today, Rice has yet to catch on with any other team.

So it is widely rumored in NFL front-office circles that Mixon’s name may not be called at all during three-day NFL night. If that scenario occurs, Mixon’s only option may be to try to catch on with a team as an undrafted free agent. And even that possibility may be difficult.

Mixon may have been better served by staying another year at Oklahoma, enjoying another productive season and working to demonstrate that his reprehensible action on that night was an aberration.

Also, the University of Oklahoma provided Mixon with counseling services to help him control his anger issues; if Mixon goes undrafted, will he be able to obtain the help he needs to continue making progress? Or will the ego-bruising prospect of going undrafted cause Mixon to lash out? Time will tell.

Nov 28, 2015; Stillwater, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley watches a replay during the second half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Boone Pickens Stadium. Oklahoma won 58-23. Mandatory Credit: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 28, 2015; Stillwater, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley watches a replay during the second half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Boone Pickens Stadium. Oklahoma won 58-23. Mandatory Credit: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Mixon’s Departure Hurts, but How Much?

One of the hallmarks of Lincoln Riley’s version of the Air Raid at Oklahoma is the offensive balance.

Even though Baker Mayfield is a brilliant quarterback who is able to keep the offense humming with pinpoint passing, the Oklahoma offense has enjoyed the luxury of having two supremely talented running backs to turn to when the game plan calls for it. Now that both Mixon and Perine are gone, where does that leave the Sooner offense?

First, the bad news: Perine and Mixon combined for 2,334 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns in 2016. Both players averaged over 100 yards rushing every game.

Mixon added 538 receiving yards and five touchdowns, second only to Dede Westbrook. Losing this kind of production is going to hurt, no matter how you slice it. But the situation is not as dire as it sounds.

Here’s the good news: The cupboard is not bare, and Oklahoma has talented running backs waiting for their opportunity. Rodney Anderson, a four-star running back from Katy, Texas, who missed all of last season with a neck injury, will return and be at full strength in 2017. Abdul Adams, another four-star recruit from the 2016 class, saw limited action in 2017 and appears ready to assume a larger role in the offense.

The addition of Lackawanna College transfer Marcelias Sutton will help, along with the arrival of 2017 four-star recruits Kennedy Brooks and Trey Sermon.

Lincoln Riley is an incredibly skilled offensive coordinator who has shown an uncanny aptitude to adapt his system to the talent at hand. And let’s not forget that Baker Mayfield, the triggerman who makes it all happen, is returning along with the entire offensive line that came together so well as the 2016 season progressed.

Even though Dede Westbrook is also departing, the Sooner receiving corps has plenty of talent to pick up the slack. This kind of continuity will help Oklahoma’s running game transition into a new era.

So, while it’s true that Perine and Mixon will be missed, Sooner Nation should be collectively excited at the prospect of seeing who will step up and carry the rushing torch forward.

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