Finishing last season with a poor 27th ranked offense, the Denver Broncos are in need of playmakers, specifically at the running back position.
For the sake of the argument, let’s assume that the Broncos have identified running back as their greatest need and decided to go in that direction for the NFL draft.
The two names most linked to Denver have been Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey. If you visited 10 different websites looking for scouting reports and comparative analysis, you will most likely see ten different opinions on the two prospects.
Numbers and calculations aside, who is the better running back for the Denver Broncos?
Both prospects have a lot to offer the team that decides to select them in the upcoming draft. Mixon has been regarded as arguably the best three-down back available, and his potential to both run between the tackles and his ability to help out in the passing game as both a blocker and a receiver make him a huge asset to any offense.
But the unquestioned knock on Mixon have been his off-the-field problems.
Mixon is most famous for his 2014 incident which involved punching a woman on camera, leading to his suspension for the entire season. More recently however, a story was leaked about Mixon reportedly assaulting a woman while he was in high school.
Normally, an incident that occurred during the teenage years of a prospect’s life are all but irrelevant, but for someone with a history like Mixon, everything he does will be analyzed and criticized relentlessly.
McCaffrey is almost the polar opposite. Coming from a football family (his father Ed McCaffrey played for the Broncos for nine seasons, winning two Super Bowls) and his older brother Max McCaffrey is currently a member of the Green Bay Packers. Worth noting, Christian McCaffrey was also the runner-up in the 2015 Heisman Trophy race.
McCaffrey has shot up draft boards in the most recent weeks, as teams are universally impressed with his versatility as a receive, runner and returner. Some even say he will leapfrog Dalvin Cook as the No. 2 running back taken in the draft. McCaffrey could even be taken as early as eighth overall.
McCaffrey’s skillset and talent make him a coveted prospect, as he has the skillset to transform a team’s offense with his ability to consistently make game-changing plays.
When it comes to who teams would want to be the face of their franchise, McCaffrey has the unquestioned upper hand over Mixon.
Though McCaffrey comes with little-to-no off-the-field problems, that doesn’t necessarily make him the best player for Denver to take in the upcoming draft.
Despite his immense talent and versatility, McCaffrey will always be a change-of-pace running back in the NFL. Unable to carry the full workload of a true every down back, McCaffrey will need another running back to relieve him or take over from time to time.
The same cannot be said for Mixon, who many believe can carry the entire load of a team’s backfield.
The Broncos’ decision does not bank solely on which prospect has the better scouting report, there is much more to consider as Denver narrows in on who to select.
If Denver is enamored with McCaffrey, it could cost them dearly to trade up for his services. Trading up into the top 10 would almost certainly require the Broncos’ first-round pick (20th overall) and quite possibly their second-round pick (51st overall) if not more.
Is trading away the top two selections in the draft worth it for a team with so many needs? Probably not.
Mixon’s draft evaluation has been all over. Some have him sneaking into the first round while others have him going completely undrafted.
Should Mixon slide out of the first round, he would be a huge bargain for Denver to draft from the second round on. Getting one of the draft’s premiere talents without using a first round pick would normally be a victory for any team’s war room.
Bargain or not, Denver has to seriously consider if it wants to add a character like Mixon to its locker room.
On Monday, Denver’s headache from last offseason was finally put to rest when the NFL announced that Aqib Talib will not be punished for his self-inflicted gunshot wound in Dallas last June. The team should be even more weary of a prospect with character concerns after witnessing firsthand the distractions of such.
Another story dominating the headlines at sites such as ESPN has been the coverage of Aaron Hernandez‘ most recent trial for the double-murder of two people. Hernandez’s football career was deemed over in 2015, when Hernandez was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. The story took another turn when Hernandez was found dead in his prison cell from an apparent suicide.
In no way is this piece meant to compare Mixon to Hernandez. But with the media attention fixed on Hernandez, teams will be extra cautious when drafting any player with character concerns. Hernandez is a reminder that no matter how strong a locker room is, drafting a player with character concerns is always a risk.
All things considered, if McCaffrey somehow falls to a range where the Broncos can either take him at No. 20 or surrender a reasonable amount of draft picks to trade up for him: McCaffrey should be the pick. A backfield with him and C.J. Anderson would give Denver the tools to transform their offense, as they build around Paxton Lynch and/or Trevor Siemian.
Mixon, though tempting if he falls out of the first and second round, is simply not the player the Broncos need in their locker room. Whether he wears orange and blue next season or not, I sincerely hope the young man gets his life together and takes advantage of his natural talent.
Is McCaffrey’s game-changing ability and strong ties to the Denver-area worth giving up so much for his services? Or does the risk of a great talent like Joe Mixon and the baggage he brings make more sense as he slides down the draft board? For now, only team general manager John Elway knows the answer to those questions.