New England Patriots WR Malcolm Mitchell feels like a different type of rookie receiver. He isn’t the biggest or most athletic or the most imposing. He isn’t the most productive; remember when WR Aaron Dobson posted 130 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Steelers back in 2013?
But after collecting 98 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers, Mitchell appears destined for a nice Patriots career. Mitchell has contributed as a blocking receiver all season, but he finally earned the trust of QB Tom Brady in the passing game and that will make all the difference.
“He’s very smart,” Brady said about Mitchell to WEEI’s Kirk & Callahan on Monday, via ESPN. “I can’t say enough good things about him and what he’s accomplished, getting his opportunity and taking advantage of it. I don’t know what people expected of him this year, but I know our coaches really liked him before the draft and I watched some tape of him the day of the draft just kind of because I knew we were interested. The things that I saw, I really liked.”
Mitchell earned praise from head coach Bill Belichick for his down-the-field blocking and took advantage of his opportunities. Mitchell probably won’t take time away from WR Chris Hogan, who was sidelined with a back injury, but the rookie seems primed to continue to develop and contribute in 2016.
“That’s how you become a professional,” Brady said. “You’re dealing with a lot of grown men and you come in at 22 or 23 years old, you better know that your competition is. The more you don’t really commit yourself, the harder it’s going to be. Malcolm has really committed himself to being the best player he can be and it’s really showed when he gets an opportunity.”
Mitchell caught our attention after he opted to skip an opportunity to meet potential sponsors during the Rookie Premiere event in May “so he could stay home and study his playbook.” He has done everything the coaches have asked and has proven that succeeding at his craft is a priority.
As for Mitchell’s strength on the field, Brady compared him to a certain All Pro tight end- and not just because of his arm brace.
“He’s got great hands, really big hands for a receiver … kind of like Gronk,” Brady said about Mitchell. “Malcolm has such confidence in his hands and it’s great for run after catch because the ball never gets to your body and slows you down. You can really snatch the ball away from defensive backs.”
Former Patriots LB Matt Chatham broke down the 56-yard touchdown connection between Brady and Mitchell to show how the quarterback dissected the play and how Mitchell took advantage of the play development.
Chatham highlights how Mitchell reacted to Brady’s slide out of the pocket to get into scramble rules and reach a depth of separation behind his defender.
Early in the season, the Patriots relied on WR Danny Amendola to produce in a 3rd down and red zone capacity, but Mitchell continued to earn the trust of his quarterbacks. Mitchell has picked up a first down on 6 of his 9 second or third down targets. He has caught all six of his targets for a ridiculous 26.7 yards per catch average when the offense needs less than 10 yards for a first down.
NESN’s Doug Kyed compared Mitchell’s route tree to that of WR Brandon LaFell. If Mitchell continues to build his relationship with Brady, and he can continue to block at a high level, then there’s a real chance for Mitchell to serve the same possession receiver role that LaFell played during the Super Bowl XLIX season.