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Monday, 10 July 2017 09:33

Unsung Patriots of 2017 - Malcolm Mitchell

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Unsung Patriots of 2017 - Malcolm Mitchell Image via chowderchampions.com

Believe it or not, training camp is right around the corner for the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. Naturally, some players will be getting more attention than others. But who could be flying under the radar in the 2017 season?

The talk of the New England Patriots offense revolved around Malcolm Butler and Brandin Cooks. Obviously, Cooks was the biggest move the Patriots made during an offseason in which they made a flurry of moves. There is no doubt about the talent that Cooks brings to the field. However, wide receiver hasn't been the easiest position for New England to find instant contributors. Chad Ochocinco, Joey Galloway, Torry Holt, and most recently Reggie Wayne are all names that came to Foxboro at one point or another and failed to contribute. That isn't incluidng names like Bethel Johnson, P.K. Sam, Chad Jackson, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, and Kenbrell Thompkins. All of the latter list came in as rookies and couldn't contribute as expected. What if Cooks is the next in the long line of receivers who can't make the transition? Then what?

 

Well, luckily for the Patriots, it seems like they appeared to find a rookie last season that can function in the offense. That receiver is Malcolm Mitchell. In his rookie season. Mitchell tallied 32 catches for 401 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games last season. In the postseason he added another seven catches for 75 yards. As the season went on, Mitchell seemed to be on the same page with Tom Brady more and more. During the Super Bowl comeback, Mitchell proved to be very reliable as he came down with six catches for 70 yards.

 

The gold standard for rookie receivers in New England is Deion Branch's 2002 campaign. In his rookie year, he recorded 43 catches for 489 yards and two touchdowns. Mithcell had two more touchdowns and almost as many yards as Branch had in his rookie season. Staying on the same page as Brady is crucial to getting passes to come your way. 

 

If Cooks struggles to grasp the playbook right out of the gate, look for Mitchell to start to get some of those targets. In Mitchell's rookie season, he averaged a touchdown catch once every 12 targets. That is actually a better ratio than fellow rookie Michael Thomas, who was the leader of all rookies in touchdown catches. In week 12 of the 2016 season, Mitchell saw himself being defended by Darelle Revis during the game. While Revis wasn't what he once was, Mitchell became the first player to ever score multiple touchdowns in the same game whlile being defended by Revis. Considering the fact that Revis would routinely guard the league's best at receiver that was an impressive accomplishment by the rookie. 

 

As the season grinded on there was no doubt that Mitchell earned Brady's respect. On third downs last season, Mitchell coverted all nine of his chances including two touchdowns. On need to have it plays, Brady could rely on Mitchell to convert. This was evidenced by his touchown against the Baltimore Ravens in week 14 last season. 

 

 

During his rookie season, Mitchell started just six of 14 games. Despite that, he still managed to score four touchdowns. That number put him fourth among all rookies. This is coming from a fourth round pick that was low on the depth chart on a team with a lot of options in the passing game.

 

 

With Julian Edelman getting a little long in the tooth and Cooks being a newcomer, having a younger receiver like Mitchell who is growing into the offense is an important thing for the Patriots. If Cooks doesn't produce like he is expected to, then Mitchell seems like an obvious candidate to start getting some of those targets.

 

Should Cooks not produce as expected, Mitchell's numbers from his rookie season would likely balloon. Somewhere around 50-60 catches for close to 700 yards would seem like reasonable expectations if he starts to see a larger role in the offense.

 

Of course, there is the chance that Cooks will have the impact that is expected. If that is the case then Mitchell's numbers will probably look similar to the ones from his rookie year. Given the weapons on the New England offense, those numbers would be reasonable ones for someone who may be the fifth option in the passing game.

 

Either way, having a younger receiver like Mitchell who is growing into the offense will only make the unit more dynamic. Should Mitchell end up with a larger role than expected it will likely only make opposing defensive coordinators heads start spinning even more. 

Billy Wyatt

Billy Wyatt is a New England Patriots beat reporter for CLNS Radio. Now covering the Patriots for multiple seasons, Billy is a veteran journalist at CLNSRadio.com A graduate of the University of Hartford with a communications degree, Billy’s prior experience was as a sports writer for the Hartford Informer.You can reach Billy via e-mail at bwyatt_91@yahoo.com. And you can follow him on Twitter @Billy_NFL.