Detroit Lions bolster tight end depth with James Mitchell at pick 177
The Detroit Lions lack ideal tight end depth behind T.J. Hockenson, and in the fifth round they added James Mitchell out of Virginia Tech.
Some Detroit Lions fans may not agree, but T.J. Hockenson is among the best 10 tight ends in the NFL. His absence late last season exposed a real lack of depth behind him, and in the fifth round on Saturday the Lions took tight end James Mitchell out of Virginia Tech with the 177th overall pick.
Mitchell only played two games for the Hokies last season due to a torn ACL last September. The injury dropped him from a potential top-100 pick in this draft to Day 3.
In 2020, Mitchell was top-10 in the ACC in yards per catch (16.7), and in 2019 he averaged 17.2 yards per catch. Over the 2019 and 2020 campaigns, he mixed in five rushing touchdowns as well.
Mitchell said he expects to be fully cleared from his torn ACL by June, and he’s already “pretty much” doing everything.
James Mitchell is an upside pick for the Lions in the fifth-round
The percentage of players drafted outside the top-175 who play in the NFL with much distinction is probably out there somewhere, but let’s confidently assume it’s small. And in Detroit, Hockenson is in line for a multi-year deal and thus he’s not going anywhere as the TE1.
Mitchell was on the Lions’ radar as a possible UDFA, but rather than risk someone else drafting him they drafted him in the fifth round.
Mitchell is also the second player the Lions have drafted who is coming off a torn ACL. He is considered a capable all-around pass catcher, with question marks as a blocker.
Via Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, on Mitchell:
"Mitchell has the foot agility and athleticism to separate on a regular basis if he can tighten up his route running and play closer to his top speed. He’s capable of attacking the seams and is talented with the ball in his hands when he has run-after-catch opportunities. As a run blocker, Mitchell puts in adequate effort but his man ends up near the action or making a play on too many snaps. He has the size to play in-line but might be best suited in a role as a pass-catching H-back."
Mitchell, at minimum, has more upside than the two immediate projected backups behind Hockenson–Brock Wright (and undrafted free agent in 2021) and free agent signing Garrett Griffin. Late in the fifth round, the Lions at least landed an intriguing player who will have an opportunity to stick.