With the offseason workout program in the rear-view mirror and training camp set to kick off later this month, the New England Patriots are fully “on to 2022.”
The team currently has 87 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early September and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots build on their 10-7 record.
Today, the series continues with rookie linebacker DaMarcus Mitchell.
Name: DaMarcus Mitchell
Position: Outside linebacker/Defensive edge
Jersey number: TBD (Offseason No. 64)
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6-foot-3, 260 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2024 (2025 RFA)
What is his experience? Mitchell did not hear his name called during the 2022 NFL Draft and had to go the free agency route to find a team. He quickly did: the Patriots signed him shortly after the conclusion of the seventh round. As a rookie, his experience at the pro level is naturally limited. Mitchell did participate in the team’s rookie minicamp and developmental program, as well as organized team activities and mandatory minicamp alongside his veteran teammates. His in-game experience is non-existent, of course.
That said, Mitchell has played a lot of football through his college career. He started as a running back at Southwest Missouri Community College in 2018, registering 18 touches for 123 yards and a touchdown. He moved to the defensive side of the ball as a freshman, however, and eventually transferred to Purdue the following offseason. In his subsequent two years as a Boilermaker, he appeared in 16 games and notched a combined 5.5 sacks, 59 tackles and three forced fumbles.
What did his 2021 season look like? With Covid-19 having disrupted the entire 2020 season, Mitchell decided to stay in school for his senior campaign at Purdue. While he was able to end the year on a high note, it proved to be a difficult one for the 23-year-old. Mitchell missed time during summer camp due to an undisclosed injury, and also struggled with medical issues during the season. As a result, he took the field in 10 of 13 possible games (although he only played a single snap against Iowa in mid-October).
When on the field, Mitchell made his presence felt as one of the Boilermakers’ most disruptive front-line defenders. Serving in a rotation that also included future first-round draft pick George Karlaftis, he registered 25 tackles — seven for loss — as well as a career-high 4.5 sacks and an additional pair of quarterback hits. He also notched two pass breakups and forced two fumbles. Both of those fumbles came during his best game of the season, Purdue’s 48-45 win over Tennessee in the Music City Bowl.
What is his projected role? Aligning in both a two- and three-point stance depending on the front, Mitchell served as a Leo — an outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid — during his time at Purdue. The expectation is that he will be used similarly in New England, and thus serve as a depth rotational option behind the likes of Matthew Judon, Josh Uche and Ronnie Perkins. This means that he will be asked to play contain on runs, rush the passer from the edge and occasionally drop back into coverage.
Does he have positional versatility? More than anything, Mitchell was an edge defender as a Boilermaker. Within that role, he did show some versatility moving through various defensive line techniques: he lined up not just as a 5-technique end but also moved out to the 7- and 9-technique spots. Additionally, he should be able to move inside between the tackles in obvious passing situations; he will need to gain more experience in coverage to become a true outside linebacker in New England’s scheme. Of course, he also has a background on offense after playing running back during his freshman year at the college level.
What is his special teams value? While his size might dictate his special teams usage, his intriguing athletic profile, experience and length might still allow him to make an impact as part of select packages. He could, for example, serve as an edge rusher or between-the-tackles pressure player on the field goal/extra point blocking squads. A former running back, he might also be used on the punt and kickoff coverage teams.
What is his salary cap situation? Mitchell signed a standard three-year UDFA deal with the Patriots in rookie free agency earlier this year. As part of this deal he carries a salary cap number of $713,333 that is split into a $705,000 salary and a $8,333 signing bonus proration. That proration sum is fully-guaranteed, as are $50,000 of his salary: the Patriots gave him the second highest salary guarantee of all their undrafted rookies, a reflection of his status among players who were not drafted.
How safe is his roster spot? Given their investment and the fact that the Patriots are facing some questions on the edge behind Pro Bowler Matthew Judon, Mitchell might be a player to watch this summer. That said, right now it still appears he is fairly low on the pecking order simply due to his lack of experience in the system. He is probably ED4 at the moment, depending on how the team views the contributions of other linebackers such as Anfernee Jennings. Either way, his roster spot is one Mitchell needs to work very hard for this summer.
One-sentence projection: Mitchell might have an easier path onto the 53-man team than other undrafted rookies and has some intriguing talent, but the general depth and versatility at the Patriots’ linebacker position still makes the practice squad the safest bet for him to stick around.