If you’ve followed this team for any period of time, you know that one of the biggest problems this football team has been developing young receivers.
You’ve seen players like Bethel Johnson and Chad Jackson, who showed promise early but fizzled out as quickly as they started. You’ve seen players like Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson who developed and showed flashes of brilliance, only to fall apart and drop off when this team needed them most.
Granted they’ve gotten lucky with players like Deion Branch, but overall, it’s been a frustrating process. Save for the surprising emergence of Julian Edelman, a former 7th round draft pick, the Patriots have largely come up empty in the draft and instead have spent much of their time looking for weapons for Tom Brady’s arsenal by shopping for them in free agency. They’ve brought in players like Randy Moss, Wes Welker, trading back for Branch after losing him in free agency the first time when he finally became eligible, and eventually signed Danny Amendola when Welker left for Denver.
But this past offseason when they drafted Malcolm Mitchell, you could tell he was special. Seeing him in the preseason and his athleticism along with the way he carried himself, the 4th-round pick out of Georgia looked like a player who finally had the potential to contribute in this offense.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. The elbow dislocation he suffered in the preseason looked pretty gruesome at the time, but fortunately that turned out to be not as severe as it could have been and it kept him out mere weeks, and he emerged among the group that started the season on the 53-man roster.
Mitchell has shown plenty of promise so far this season. (USA TODAY Images)
He had some big plays early on, finishing with one reception of at least 15 yards or more in each of their first three games before he dropped off the radar for a bit after Brady’s week five return against Cleveland. Chris Hogan essentially took over the majority of the snaps thanks to his big play ability and the connection the two players seemed to have. But with Hogan out on Sunday along with Rob Gronkowski’s absence, Mitchell found himself in position to take advantage of his opportunity, and he did just that.
“I just think the coaches did a good job of just getting me prepared for the week,” said Mitchell after the game. “It kind of came down to a last second call for Chris [Hogan]. Other than that, I was just working hard every week, just getting ready for any opportunities that I get, in general.”
The receiver finished with four receptions for 98 yards along with a touchdown out in San Francisco on Sunday, which included an incredible 56-yard grab that saw him catch a perfectly thrown football in traffic from Brady and take off for the races as he scored his first NFL career touchdown and Brady’s fourth of the afternoon.
“He shows up every day with his hard hat on ready to go to work,” Brady said Sunday after the win. “I’ve just been impressed with him since the day he came in and just his personality is infectious. He’s a very positive person and he made a great play today, made a lot of great plays. He’s growing along with everybody else and it’s been great to see.”
With Mitchell, one of the things that stands out is the fact he’s so smooth in and out of his routes, with tremendous control along with the fact he catches the ball with his hands away from his body. In fact, watching him play, he doesn’t even look like a rookie. He does everything right from his receiving skills all the way down to his blocking, with one of his downfield blocks on Sunday helping spring LeGarrette Blount for a 44-yard gain standing out. Thanks to that effort, it helped Blount get them down to the 49ers 33-yard line and ultimately lead to a 9-yard touchdown pass from brady to James White that, at the time, put them up 13-3 early in the second quarter.
Bill Belichick, certainly noticed the play, and he was very pleased with Mitchell as he spoke to reporters after the game.
“Honestly, I thought maybe the best play he had just from the sideline was the blocking he did on [LeGarrette Blount]’s long run in the first quarter,” said Belichick. “It was like a 20-yard gain and ended up being a 40-yard gain, or something like that. Malcolm competed hard. He always works hard. He’s a smart kid. He got an opportunity today and certainly stepped up and took advantage of it, so that’s what our team needed.”
He looks like a player who has all the tools necessary to play in this league and it was great to see him build some chemistry with Brady with Hogan and Gronk both sidelined. But so far, he’s playing above what we’ve seen previously from past young Patriots receivers and that’s exactly one of the things that’s been missing.
Thanks to his emergence, the Patriots seem to have the most quality depth at receiver that they’ve ever had and with plenty of football still ahead. But for now, it looks like the Patriots may have finally gotten it right with his selection and we’ll have to see if this is just a glimpse of what might be still to come from him moving forward.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2016 Patriots season Malcolm Mitchell New England Patriots San Francisco 49ers Tom Brady