James Mitchell was eased in to action as a rookie, but new Lions tight ends coach Steve Heiden sees real potential for 2023.
The Detroit Lions drafted tight end James Mitchell in the fifth round of the 2022 draft (No. 177 overall) knowing they would not rush him into action coming off a torn ACL early in his final season at Virginia Tech.
Mitchell ultimately played in 14 games as a rookie, with 183 offensive snaps and 136 special teams snaps. He played 20 or more offensive snaps only twice, but he caught all 11 of the passes thrown his way for 113 yards and a touchdown.
The pre-draft tight end depth chart for the Lions has Brock Wright and probably Shane Zylstra ahead of Mitchell. But in terms of raw potential, Mitchell has more than the other two guys put together and it’s not close.
A deep draft class at tight end invites the idea the Lions will add someone to the mix, and some mock drafters can’t get past the idea they’ll do it in the first round.
New Lions tight ends coach has high hopes for James Mitchell in 2023
Steve Heiden is the Lions new tight ends coach, hired to the position with the promotion of Tanner Engstrand. He played in the NFL, and he had to rehab an ACL tear once. So he comes from an informed perspective there when it comes to Mitchell as the young tight end moves into his second season.
Via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, here’s what Heiden said about Mitchell during his session with the media on Wednesday.
"Here’s a kid that was coming off an ACL last year and that’s hard to do,” “I had to do that myself as a player, and you’re really not yourself that whole next year, so it was a lot of credit to him just being out there playing.The things you see on tape, you see the athletic tools and some of the things he can do movement wise, and we’re going to grow and build off of that as we go this year. So I’m excited to get him his second year off the ACL. I think that’s an important year to grow and develop. I think there’s a lot of room to grow there for him.”"
The general narrative is that a player is not all the way back to full strength within the first year after a torn ACL. Week 1 of the 2023 season will be close to the two-year mark from suffering the injury for Mitchell.
If the Lions don’t draft a tight end, Mitchell should have a clear opportunity to become their No. 1 guy at the position. The breakout bandwagon is slowly being gassed up, awaiting the go ahead to be started up and the green light to move if Mitchell earns the starting job.