We have entered the deepest depths of the NFL offseason. Free agency and the draft are behind us, while minicamp and training camp won't start until early June and late July, respectively. However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop.
After all, until the late-August's roster cuts, players need to have secured their spots on the team. Over the course of the next few months, we will take a look at the men fighting for them on the 2017 New England Patriots. 53 of currently 90 players will be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.
Today, we’ll continue the series with one of the team's most intriguing offensive skill position players.
Name: Malcolm Mitchell
Position: Wide receiver
Jersey number: 19
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6’1, 200 lbs.
2016 review: With the 112th pick of the 2016 NFL draft, the Patriots addressed their wide receiver position by selecting Malcolm Mitchell. The Georgia product’s first year in the NFL already showed why the team was willing to invest a fourth round pick in him: He delivered one of the best rookie seasons a wideout has had during the Bill Belichick era.
Appearing in 14 regular season and two playoff games, Mitchell was able to establish himself as a regular member of New England’s wide receiver rotation. He played 540 of a possible 1,120 offensive snaps during the regular season (48.2%), serving as the Patriots’ number three wideout in terms of playing time. The rookie added 100 snaps (of 242, 41.3%) during the Patriots’ postseason run.
Showing a very good initial rapport with the team’s quarterbacks, precise route running and physical blocking, Mitchell was given a lot of opportunities during his first NFL season. He made the most out of them and finished the regular season with 32 receptions for 401 yards and four scores. He also registered seven catches for 75 yards in the playoffs.
While his best statistical performances happened in weeks 11 (98 receiving yards), 12 (two touchdowns) and 13 (eight receptions), Mitchell’s most noteworthy performance of the season took place in the biggest game: During Super Bowl LI, he caught six balls for 70 yards. Five of his catches came after halftime, with four resulting in first downs as he proved that the spotlight was not too bright.
2017 preview: Coming off a promising rookie season, Mitchell is a) a lock to make the Patriots roster and b) one of the team’s most intriguing receiving options entering 2017. Consequently, he should see his role grow after sharing number three wide receiver duties with Danny Amendola in 2016. And if Mitchell’s first year in the NFL is any indication, the 23-year old will be up to the task.
The question is how this task will ultimately look like given the composition of the team’s current wide receiver depth chart. With the 2016 core returning plus the acquisition of Brandin Cooks, New England has five starting-caliber wide receivers on its roster; not to mention additional depth at the running back and tight end positions.
Because of his skill set and upside, though, it seems to be a given that Mitchell will not get lost in this numbers game. While it remains to be seen how exactly he will be used during his second season, it will likely be in ways that suit him best best: He will work primarily as an X or a Z on the perimeter while working patterns – comebacks, slants outs – that take advantage of his already very good route running and understanding of the offense’s concepts.
Of course, his ultimate usage – just like every other player’s – will be quite flexible and depend on situations and opponents. And while this might lead to Mitchell potentially not playing top-three wide receiver snaps in 2017, he will still be in a position to make the famed second-year jump and become even more reliable as an offensive weapon. After all, his is the future at the position.