NORMAN — Running back Joe Mixon became the 80th Sooner in the 18-year Bob Stoops era to be selected in the NFL Draft when he was taken by the Cincinnati Bengals with the 16th pick in the second round (48th overall) Friday night.
A potent and versatile offensive weapon in the Oklahoma backfield the last two years, Mixon set the OU single-season record for all-purpose yards (2,331) and all-purpose yards per game (194.3) as a sophomore in 2016, the same season he earned first-team All-Big 12 honors and scored 16 total touchdowns (10 rushing, five receiving and one kickoff return).
Mixon registered six touchdowns of at least 40 yards from scrimmage in 2016, becoming just the fourth player in OU history to record at least five such TDs in a season. He ranked fourth nationally among running backs who averaged at least 100.0 rushing yards per game with his 6.81 yards per carry.
The Oakley, Calif., product turned in one of the best offensive performances in school history when he registered 377 all-purpose yards (second most in OU annals) and scored five TDs in a win at Texas Tech last October. In that game, Mixon became the first Sooner to record 200 rushing yards and 100 receiving yards in the same game, and became one of only two FBS players since 1996 to register three receiving TDs and two rushing scores in one contest.
"During the interview process, I think they had a really good feeling about me and it seemed like they would do whatever they could to work things out."
— Joe Mixon on the Bengals
Mixon finished his two-year career with 2,027 rushing yards (17 TDs) and 894 receiving yards (nine TDs), and also threw a 26-yard TD pass to Dede Westbrook last season. He ranks third in OU history in career receiving yards by a running back and fourth in career receptions by a running back (65). He accomplished all of those numbers while splitting time with OU career rushing leader Samaje Perine (Mixon made just nine starts in his two seasons).
When contacted by phone Friday night, Mixon, who watched the draft with family in California, said, "I had a pretty good feeling it would be Cincinnati. When I had met with them in person, they were very straight up about everything. During the interview process, I think they had a really good feeling about me and it seemed like they would do whatever they could to work things out. The owner felt comfortable with me, the G.M. felt comfortable with me and so did the coaches. Now it's time to help the players get comfortable and make this thing happen."
Asked what went through his mind when he got the phone call from the Bengals and what he knows about the organization, Mixon exhaled and said, "Man, my first thought was, 'I can't believe this is happening right now.' It was a very humbling experience. It's a blessing and I just have to thank God.
"Cincinnati has a really good running back tradition. I feel like the offensive coordinator puts you in a winning position. I'm going to go there and hopefully learn from (2016 leading rusher) Jeremy Hill and everyone else. I think they'll figure out ways for me to help out the team."
The 6-1, 226-pound Mixon is the 26th Sooner under Stoops to go in the first or second round. He is also the fifth OU running back under Stoops be selected in the NFL Draft, joining DeMarco Murray in 2011, Allen Patrick in 2008, Adrian Peterson in 2007 and Quentin Griffin in 2003. Peterson led the NFL in rushing yards in 2008, 2012 and 2015, while Murray accomplished the feat in 2014.
"I'm proud of his development on and off the field."
— OU Head Coach Bob Stoops
"I'm not sure that anyone in the country has had as much talent at running back as we've had the last couple of years, and Joe was a big part of that," said Stoops. "He has the size and speed you love, but he also has great footwork. He picks the right gaps and then he has the acceleration to make the big play. He's great catching the ball out of the backfield and it's pretty rare the first guy brings him down. When you add in his abilities on special teams, Joe is something very rare. I'm proud of his development on and off the field."
The Bengals finished 6-9-1 last season and in third place in the AFC North Division. Hill led the team by running for 839 yards and nine touchdowns on 222 carries (3.8 yards per rush). Cincinnati is under the direction of head coach Marvin Lewis, who is 118-103-3 in his 14 years with the franchise. The Bengals have made the playoffs in five of the last six years and seven times under Lewis.
Asked Friday night if he had any think he wanted to say about his coaches, teammates and fans in Oklahoma, Mixon didn't hesitate to respond.
"Definitely," he said. "First I want to thank President (David) Boren, (Athletics Director) Joe Castiglione, Coach Stoops and the OU staff for sticking by me and believing in me as a person and not just as a player on the field. I want to thank the fans for supporting us and showing up every week for our games. I want to thank my former teammates. I hope they win the national championship this year, because they will be really good. I thank the support staff, the counselors, the tutors, the professors — everyone who impacted me. I thank everybody. I'm very grateful for the opportunity they gave me."
Added Mixon, "One last 'Boomer' to everyone."