One of the major talking points out of Sunday’s Patriots vs. Jets game is the success of rookie wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell. He finished the day with 5 receptions for 42 yards and two touchdowns. This comes just one week after Mitchell’s 98 yard, 1 touchdown performance against the 49ers. The Patriots have not seen this kind of production from an outside receiver since the days of Randy Moss.
Since Moss left the Pats in the fall of 2010, three different receivers have had 1,000 yard seasons: Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Julian Edelman. Two slot receivers and a tight end. Out of all the notable Patriot pass catchers in the post-Moss era, none have been true deep threats.
In just the past few years Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce, Aaron Dobson, Tiquan Underwood, Chad Johnson, Jabar Gaffney, Donté Stallworth, Brandon Lloyd, and Brandon LaFell have all been signed to play receiver. All have come, all have failed, and all have been cut. Literally. Every single one got the boot. Sure, Brandon LaFell and Brandon Lloyd enjoyed moderate success in their respective first years in New England—but that production quickly came to a halt, leading to their imminent terminations. Finding a talented outside receiver who also understands the intricacies of a Belichick-McDaniels offense has seemed like a mere pipe dream.
While at University of Georgia, Malcolm Mitchell became known for his leaping catches over defenders, reminiscent of former Bulldog AJ Green. At the NFL combine, he posted an impressive 4.45 40 yard-dash and 129” broad jump. On Sunday, Mitchell leveraged this athleticism to burn Darrelle Revis for two touchdowns. The week before, he finessed past 49ers’ man coverage for a 56 yard score. What’s especially encouraging is how sharp and confident the rookie looks running routes. Talented wide receivers have come to New England and failed to comprehend the infamously complex playbook and, thus, looked lost on the field. This doesn’t seem to be an issue with Mitchell. Another testament is the trust that Tom Brady has already shown him. Against the Jets, Mitchell was targeted in the end zone more times than any other Patriot receiver.
Despite his limited play and lack of experience, Malcolm Mitchell is a powerful presence on the outside. He shows all the makings of a great deep threat: speed, athleticism, intelligence, physicality, and the trust of Tom Terrific. However, a good rookie year does not necessarily translate into a successful career. After Aaron Dobson’s rookie year, Patriots fans mistakenly thought they had found the outside receiver they had long been looking for. What separates Aaron Dobson and Malcolm Mitchell is that Dobson showed serious red flags from the start. During Dobson’s first year, he dropped the 17th most balls out of all NFL players while only receiving the 94th most targets. Mitchell has shown no such deficiency.
The potential impact of Malcolm Mitchell cannot be understated. Last time Tom Brady paired with an effective outside receiver it created the greatest QB-WR combo in NFL history. Just take 2007 for example. Tom Brady connected with Randy Moss for 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns (the most in NFL history) and exactly 0 losses. It was beautiful. Even if Malcolm Mitchell produces a portion of that stat line the Patriots’ offense will be an unstoppable freight train for years to come. The Patriots have finally found their deep threat.