The Patriots got some good news on Wednesday when wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell returned to practice from IR and the 21-day window has begun ticking. The Patriots have 21 days to either activate Mitchell to the 53-man roster or place him on season-ending IR.
Mike Giardi of NBC Boston said that while the Pats will take it day-to-day with Mitchell, he could be activated as early as Sunday in time to face the Jets in the 2017 regular season finale.
The bad news is that means Vincent Valentine will not be returning this year. And, once Mitchell is activated, that means another player would have to be released or placed on IR. That means possibly Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt or possibly Geneo Grissom could be cut loose. Or someone like Alan Branch, or possibly Rex Burkhead or even Chris Hogan could revert to IR.
The Patriots began practicing linebacker Shea McClellin off of IR in mid-season before he suffered a setback and was reverted to season-ending IR. Now, Mitchell is in the same boat.
In a perfect world, Mitchell’s return would give Tom Brady and the offense a shot in the arm. In his rookie season, he started slowly due to an injury, but came on down the stretch and had a very effective Super Bowl against the Falcons where he caught six passes for 70 yards, most of it in the second half comeback.
Mitchell has decent speed but isn’t a burner. He’s a move the chains kind of guy who can make the tough catches against man coverage. With Hogan on the shelf, that is what the Patriots offense lacks. An outside possession receiver who can move the sticks against tight man coverage. Mitchell, if productive, opens up the large part of the field for Brandin Cooks. It would put a lot more pressure on opposing defenses who want to play that tight coverage where everything is contested underneath.
Right now, that guy is Rob Gronkowski, but teams are going to begin to double him. Danny Amendola is effective but works more inside.
Dorsett hasn’t caught on to the offense the way the team had hoped. He’s flashed at times but hasn’t been nearly consistent enough.
If the Patriots are going to release anyone my thoughts are it would be either Dorsett or Grissom who could easily revert to the practice squad. They signed Britt to a 2-year deal and he’d fit the mold for a bigger possession guy down the road. The Pats already have a speedier, more productive version of Dorsett in Cooks.
Mitchell, by way of his strong finish to the Super Bowl run a year ago, was the recipient of high hopes in 2017, but things haven’t worked out. He was injured all through training camp and never took the field once the season began. We won’t know how well his knee holds up until he actually begins playing. And then the question is, what can be considered reasonable expectations for him at this late juncture?
He hasn’t taken the field since training camp and even that was in a limited fashion. He really hasn’t taken meaningful snaps since February.
That’s why Sunday’s game, if he’s activated, will be so important. That’s the only action he’d get this season before the playoffs start. Which isn’t a lot of time to work off the rust. But it is what it is.
Like we mentioned above, in a perfect world, Mitchell would come back in mid-February form and Hogan returns healthy for the playoffs. But unfortunately, that world often doesn’t exist. The potential for the offense with those two healthy and productive is off the charts. Especially if Burkhead returns for the playoffs.
So, Sunday’s matchup will have a game within a game if Mitchell is activated. And a lot of eyes will be watching, not all of them from Foxboro.
Posted Under: 2017 Patriots Season
Tags: 2017 Patriots Season Bill Belichick Chris Hogan Danny Amendola Julian Edelman Kenny Britt Malcolm Mitchell New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots wide receiver injuries Patriots wide receivers Phillip Dorsett Rob Gronkowski Tom Brady