With off-season workouts in full swing, it’s finally time to look forward to the 2018 football season. By now, everyone has heard countless headlines about Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and several other New England Patriots stars. While those players will certainly have a large impact in determining the success of the season, several players have fallen under the radar. Third-year wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell has the potential to play a large role on the 2018 Patriots, and ultimately be the difference between wins and losses. However, Mitchell also the potential to miss the roster altogether. Let’s take a dive into everything he could mean to the 2018 Patriots.
New England Patriots X-Factors: Malcolm Mitchell
Mitchell showed in his rookie year just how good he could be when everything goes right. While he’s listed as just 6’1″ and 200 pounds, Mitchell plays much bigger than that. He’s a great perimeter receiver, capable of consistently beating man coverage and winning contested passes.
After a preseason elbow injury led to a slow start to 2016, Mitchell’s production exploded midway through his rookie year. In a four-game stretch, Mitchell recorded 21 receptions for 263 yards and four touchdowns. He injured his knee midway through a Week 16 matchup versus the New York Jets but managed to return for the playoffs. His ability to beat physical man coverage was huge in Super Bowl LI and was one of the biggest reasons New England eliminated that 28-3 deficit.
Quite frankly, the Patriots don’t have any other player like Mitchell on the roster. Julian Edelman is a phenomenal receiver, but he does most of his damage by gaining quick separation. He can line out wide, but he’s a different type of player than Mitchell. Chris Hogan is a great scheme fit for New England and can dominate zone coverage, but he struggles against man coverage. Better cornerbacks can erase him from a game in press coverage, while Mitchell is more than capable of winning those physical fights.
At his best, Mitchell could easily be the number two receiver on the Patriots depth chart. The combination of Edelman’s shiftiness, Hogan’s speed, and Mitchell’s intermediate work would be one of the most well-balanced receiving groups in football. However, there’s a big hurdle Mitchell needs to clear for this vision to reach fruition.
Can Mitchell Stay Healthy?
Mitchell fell to the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft in large part due to health concerns. He’s a great weapon when on the field, but keeping him on the field has been something of an issue. After playing in 16 of a possible 19 games his rookie season, Mitchell missed the entirety of 2017 with a knee injury.
Mitchell’s current knee injury dates all the way back to the aforementioned Jets game in 2016. While he played through the pain during the 2016-2017 postseason run, he was limited throughout the 2017 off-season. Mitchell re-aggravated the injury in the 2017 pre-season, landing on the injured reserve.
Mitchell participated in the first day of OTAs but had his knee considerably taped up. If that wasn’t bad enough, Mitchell has not been seen since that first appearance. Something happened on that first day of OTAs which caused Mitchell’s knee to flare up. While the extent of the injury isn’t known, it’s a bad sign that he still isn’t fully recovered.
This isn’t an isolated case, either, as Mitchell’s knee injuries date all the way back to college. Mitchell tore his ACL in 2013 during the first game of the season. Mitchell returned in 2014 but suffered yet another knee injury. This time, the Georgia Bulldog needed arthroscopic surgery stemming from an injury in voluntary workouts. While he would return during the 2014 season, the injury cost him four games.
What to Expect From Mitchell
Basing predictions on injuries isn’t easy, as there’s so much unknown to the public. However, based on everything we know, Mitchell will most likely be ready for the beginning of the 2018 season. Even if he’s not ready for Week One, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll miss a second consecutive season of football.
Much like his rookie year, it will probably take Mitchell a few weeks to find his form. Coming back from a knee injury isn’t easy, and getting on the same page with Tom Brady can be even tougher. However, once he’s comfortable both with his body and in the offense, the sky is the limit.
There’s really no overstating how impressive he was during that four-week stretch in 2016. He beat Darrelle Revis for two touchdowns and was one of the biggest players behind that great Super Bowl comeback. He’s a perfect fit for the offense and works as a key piece that nobody else on the roster can replicate.
His knees will always be an issue – at this point, there’s no way to deny that. However, as long as he’s on two healthy knees, he’ll be a great weapon in the passing game. Hopefully, he can have two healthy knees for the 2018 season.