Malcolm Mitchell has yet to catch more than two passes in a regular-season game. He has yet eclipse 33 receiving yards. He has yet to score a touchdown. But while his on-field production has been minimal through the first five weeks of the New England Patriots’ season, you get the sense that the fourth-round wideout by way of Georgia is well on his way.
Mitchell wouldn’t be on the field otherwise.
The 24-year-old stands No. 4 on a 53-man depth chart of four, situated behind veterans Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola. Mitchell has, however, stood alongside and at times ahead of them in New England’s two-back sets, three-receiver sets, and two-tight end sets.
That is a telling sign for the rookie wideout, who dislocated his left elbow in the preseason opener and didn’t make his return until the regular-season opener.
Mitchell has started a pair of contests since then. He’s played 37 percent of the offense’s snaps in the process.
Week 1 vs. Arizona Cardinals: 39 snaps
Week 2 vs. Miami Dolphins: 31 snaps
Week 3 vs. Houston Texans: 16 snaps
Week 4 vs. Buffalo Bills: 20 snaps
Week 5 vs. Cleveland Browns: 25 snaps
There’s an inherent element of trust in those snaps. They’re football currency. And in time, there’s reason to believe that the currency accumulated by Mitchell will lead to more targets.
In glimpses, he’s made a case.
Mitchell has caught a pass in four of his five appearances, totaling six catches on 12 targets from three different quarterbacks for 82 yards.
The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder has not looked out of place when aligning at the “X” and “Z” positions in the offense, and the ball has been thrown his way on a deep dig, a fade stop, three curls, a deep curl, two comebacks, a broken play, a quick slant, a flat route and a quick screen thus far into his inaugural NFL campaign.
Deep dig: One target
Fade stop: One target
Curl: Three targets, two catches, 33 yards
Deep curl: One target
Comeback: Two targets
Broken play: One target, one catch, 15 yards
Quick slant: One target, one catch, 27 yards
Flat route: One target, one catch, five yards
Quick screen: One target, one catch, two yards
Mitchell’s ability to work fast is a trait tailored for what the Patriots do on offense, and adding onto it has been his ability to turn upfield and engineer yards after the catch.
Mitchell has broken tackles. He’s climbed the ladder. He’s returned to the football when things have broken down, like they ominously did on third-and-9 in the second quarter versus Miami.
It isn’t all there yet. His impact has been felt in the short game more so than the intermediate or long. But there’s something to be said for what No. 19 has shown in his limited sample size.
Mitchell does not have to be a first, second, third or fourth option in the passing game at this juncture. Not with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. Not with Edelman, Amendola and Hogan. Not with receiving back James White and the impending return of Dion Lewis. Even so, Mitchell does not have to take a redshirt, either.
It’s become evident that the Patriots don’t feel he needs one.