It appears the Bengals plan to give him what he wants.
Bengals player personnel director Duke Tobin said that Mixon will be the lead running back next season, and they plan to lean on him heavily. This isn't a surprise considering Mixon began getting double-digit carries when Jeremy Hill went on injured reserve late in the season. It does essentially seal Hill's imminent departure, however. Hill will be a free agent in March, and has already posted his goodbyes to Cincinnati on social media. He was not even mentioned during Tobin's news conference at the NFL scouting combine Wednesday.
That departure has been a long time in the making after the Bengals took Mixon in the second round of the 2017 draft. Running back usage was frustrating for both Hill and Mixon for much of the year. At the beginning of the year, Hill was often given the first series of each half, but didn't have any snaps other than that. Against the Steelers in October, the team went away from the run entirely, causing Mixon to voice his opposition to the group's lack of carries. Juggling three running backs between Hill, Mixon and Giovani Bernard wasn't feasible with the team's lack of offense last year.
"Joe really came on for us in the later part of the year, second half of the season. He's going to be our bell-cow running back," Tobin said. "We are going to combine him with [Giovani Bernard] and we really feel good about that position group."
Mixon finished the season with 626 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns in 14 games.
Also on Wednesday, Tobin said he plans to get pass-rusher Carl Lawson on the field more after Lawson was mostly limited to third down and nickel packages in 2017. Lawson still managed 8.5 sacks as a rookie despite relatively limited playing time.
"We felt strongly when we took him," Tobin said. "If the draft were going to happen again, he'd be selected much higher. He came on for us in a big way. Last year we were low in quarterback pressures. So it was something we went into the offseason to attack. We doubled up at the defensive end spot, or the pass-rusher spot, and both of those young guys came in and gave us what we were looking for. They gave us a spark. Carl's going to build on that. We're going to expand his role. As he goes forward, he'll be on the field a little bit more. Talking with coach [Teryl] Austin, he's excited to work with him. We've got a lot of regard for him. We think he's going to be a big-time player for us."
As for 2017 first-round pick John Ross, Tobin said they expect him to have a big year. Ross came into the offseason rehabbing from shoulder surgery, played less than 20 snaps, and ended the season on injured reserve.
"We've had a run here where our first-round picks are hurt. William Jackson bounced back this year and became what we thought he was but he missed his whole rookie season," Tobin said of the team's 2016 first-round pick. "John [Ross] did not get off to the start he wanted. Injuries played a big part in that. We expect big things from him coming on in the future. He's going to be a big part of what we do. But it's hard to predict injuries. He got a slower start than what he wanted."