Joe Mixon is a 2014 prospect that most Michigan fans have at least heard of, but probably isn’t as well known as some of the more local prospects to the Michigan fan base. He plays for Freedom High School in Oakley, California and is one of the premiere running backs in the nation. With an offer list highlighted by powerhouses such as Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State, OU and USC, it’s clear to see why he is rated as a 4 star and the #82 player in the nation according to Rivals (Rivals). Joe has college-ready frame at 6’2” and 210 pounds, especially if the rumors are true that he is now closer to 220lbs. Brady has been targeting bigger backs to run in the pro style, and Joe is no exception. He has been expressed as one of the top backs on Michigan’s big board, and here is why:
The one thing that jumps off of the tape about his game is… well… everything. On the first play of the reel, he makes a move in open space that would leave new Detroit Lion (and previous USC Trojan) Reggie Bush impressed. For the following seven minutes, Joe puts on a show that displays one of the most well rounded skill sets for a running back in this class.
One of the most impressive parts of his game is his speed, especially given his size. Joe does a good job of recognizing his surroundings and reacting quickly. He can stop on a dime and adjust his direction almost instantly, which coupled with his vision makes him extremely dangerous in open space. Coming out of cuts, Joe is exceptionally explosive with his first couple steps. Not only can he make the moves to create space, but his burst is what gives him elite separation.
Along with being quick, Joe Mixon also has the straight-line speed to be a big play threat every time he touches the ball. At the high school level, he has the speed to outrun almost everyone. When he gets to college, Joe may be a half step behind the BCS level corner backs that he will be playing against, but given his elite skill set he should rarely be caught from behind (kind of nice to consider since even the better Michigan backs in recent memory weren’t the best at this). I could not find a 40 yard dash time for him, but a sub 4.6 wouldn’t be surprising.*
*For 40-yard dash times, I try to asses them realistically as opposed to posted high school times that are usually heavily exaggerated. Many skill position players and defensive backs post times that are sub 4.5, or even sub 4.4, but I doubt most would beat Denard who ran an official 4.43 in the draft (which yes, is still very fast).
In addition to his impressive speed, Joe displays the brutal running style and skills that has been coined the term as “MANBALL” by many Michigan fans. Not only can he break through arm tackles, but Joe also seems to prefer hitting people when given the chance (see the 4:35 mark). Unless you hit him square and wrap up, he won’t go down. Along with breaking arm tackles, Joe does a good job of maintaining balance between the tackles, utilizing a stiff arm, and basically doing what he can to keep his feet and gain extra yards. He is player that finishes plays, and a lack of effort does not seem to be an issue.
Speed and strength are two of the main ways that running backs are assessed, but Joe’s game goes beyond that. He does the little things right, and shows a natural instinct for running with the ball in his hands. While watching his tape, I kept having the reoccurring thought of how slippery he is in traffic. Even when he’s not making SC Top 10 jukes and trucks, he does just enough to catch the defender off balance then break the resulting attempt at a tackle. Joe can also catch well out of the backfield by using his hands to secure the ball away from his body and flashing the ability to catch on the run. Oh yeah, and he can jump over people too.
When all aspects of his game come together, the result is a very complete and polished running back. His film isn’t littered with him just trying to run people over, which I believe shows his decision-making skills as a priority over trying to be flashy. It’s clear he has the tools to beat you either way, and his film shows that he does a good job of making the right move. Of course a highlight tape is meant to contain only good plays, but on every single snap that the ball touches his hands, he seems to make the absolute most of it.
I know it seems that my breakdown of his game seems very optimistic, but any critique I leave would be nitpicking. He tends to run a little high up, which is why I think people like to drop the Ty Isaac comparison. I do see similarities such as the pad level and catching ability, but Joe appears to be a little more of a punishing runner. Also, he lets the ball get a little away from his body when making cuts, but that is a very minor issue to fix. It’s hard to assess any other room for improvement without seeing a complete tape (for example, there wasn’t sufficient film to analyze his blocking ability).
So what does this mean for Michigan? Joe recently trimmed his offer group down to his top 15, of which the Wolverines are included. On top of that, he has expressed early interest in visiting Michigan, and has even been rumored to claim that Michigan has him as their number one RB option. If he really is the top back on the big board, then I’m sure the staff has been putting on the full court press to land their #1 RB. Like many West Coast recruits, it’s hard to make it to the Midwest for a visit, so it is tough to judge our chances until (if) he makes the trip. He will be hard to pull from the coast, but if he makes it on campus, anything is possible. Stay tuned for more prospect breakdowns, as well as the latest on Joe’s recruitment.
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