Rookie TE James Mitchell ready to step up for Detroit Lions
ALLEN PARK -- You’re up, James Mitchell.
The Detroit Lions have a void to fill after the T.J. Hockenson trade, and while Brock Wright is expected to step into the starting role, no one’s playing time is expected to spike more than the rookie fifth-round pick. Mitchell hasn’t played more than six snaps in a game, and just 21 for the season.
Now he’s TE2, and ready for the challenge.
“I do feel ready,” he said in front of his locker after practice on Wednesday. “I think they’ve done a good job preparing me. I haven’t got over six snaps in a game, but I’ve been repping a lot in practice and just building that trust and that confidence in myself. I’m ready.”
Mitchell was a three-year starter at Virginia Tech who averaged 18.0 yards per catch for his career, and once looked like he might become one the top pass-catching tight ends in his draft class. But he blew out his ACL in the second game of his final season with the Hokies, which sent his stock tumbling. He finished his career with 52 catches for 938 yards and seven touchdowns.
But this regime has shown it’s not scared of gambling on high-upside players with injuries, and selected Mitchell with the 177th pick in the draft.
“His upside is tremendous,” assistant general manager Ray Agnew said. “What stood out about him is the route running and the ability to catch the ball in college. And he was a much better blocker than you’d think in college. Lot of college guys are not great blockers, but he was pretty good, and before the injury, he was playing really well. So the upside was what stood out to me, the ability to catch the ball and run after the catch also.”
Mitchell did not participate in the Lions’ offseason program, but returned in time to participate in training camp. He was brought along slowly, and did not even dress for the first three weeks of the season. But as the knee improved, so has his work in practice. He’s played in each of the last four games, just made his first catch last week against Miami -- and now his playing time is about to explode after Hockenson was dealt to Minnesota.
“I feel really good,” Mitchell said. “Obviously, like you said, physically, they were taking their time with me. I didn’t play, or I didn’t dress, our the first three games. But I think after that, after that fourth week, I really started to see a change in my body physically, with the knee. I felt better, I felt fresher, felt more explosive. And then mentally during that time, I was doing my best to not fall behind, even though I wasn’t playing, just, you know, stay locked in, still say ahead on the offense even though I wasn’t out there on the field.”