Prospect Profile: Quinyon Mitchell

With these Prospect Profiles, we generally like to shine a spotlight on players who haven’t constantly been thrust into the national spotlight, prospects you likely haven’t been watching on primetime television. Enter Toledo cornerback Quinyon Mitchell.

Toledo went eight years (2009-2016) with zero players drafted into the NFL. The Rockets exploded back onto the scene in 2017 with three players getting drafted, starting with former Chiefs third-round pick Kareem Hunt. Including the 2017 picks, Toledo has sent nine players to the NFL through the draft since then, featuring impact players like Hunt and Diontae Johnson. Mitchell has the chance not only to extend that recent lineage, but also to become the Rockets’ first Day 1 draft pick since Dan Williams in 1993.

Mitchell’s lack of a spotlight dates back to his early days in high school. Despite residing in the talent-rich state of Florida, Mitchell found himself at Williston HS, a small, 1A school south of Gainesville. Lost in the dregs of high school recruits, Mitchell was a consensus three-star athlete ranking so far down the boards that he avoided the attention of the state’s big three (Florida, FSU, Miami). ranked Mitchell as the nation’s 114th best cornerback recruit.

Mitchell raked in a number of small school offers from the likes of Alcorn State, Georgia State, Georgia Southern, South Dakota, and South Alabama before landing a couple offers from in-state FAU and USF. At a satellite recruiting camp, visiting Toledo coaches took note of Mitchell and delivered an offer. He committed to the Rockets, but a senior year offer from Illinois led Mitchell to consider his options before ultimately sticking with Toledo and heading north to Ohio.

At Toledo, academic struggles forced Mitchell to grayshirt his freshman year before the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season kept him mostly quiet in 2020, as well. Following the slow start, though, Mitchell came on strong as a full-time starter in 2022. Through the final three years of his college experience, in fact, Mitchell didn’t miss a single start, playing through a couple minor injuries to make 40 straight starts.

In his second season as a starter, Mitchell exploded onto the scene. While leading the MAC in interceptions with five, two of which were returned for touchdowns, Mitchell earned first-team All-MAC honors. But he caught the national eye after leading the country in passes defensed with 25, helping him to earn second-team All-American honors. He followed that up with a strong 2023 season, as well, in which he recorded one interception and 19 passes defensed (leading the MAC) and earned the same All-MAC and All-American accolades.

His elite ability to break up passes occurred all over the field. Not only did he display the speed and stickiness to stay with receivers down the field, but he also showed off an elite ability to read the quarterback and receiver and drive upfield to break up short comebacks and screens. He may have the best ball skills of any defensive back in this year’s draft. What’s almost as impressive as what he did with those skills, though, is what he didn’t do. Mitchell’s elite coverage was accompanied by elite restraint. During his two second-team All-American seasons, Mitchell drew only one penalty (a pass interference call in 2022).

It difficult to find holes in Mitchell’s game. The glaring red flag is obviously the lack of competition, though he did face off against a number of talented receivers, including top wide receiver prospect Marvin Harrison Jr., who beat him for a touchdown in 2022. There could be concern that Mitchell may not hold up as well against top-end receiver talent on a consistent basis. Also, due to the lack of talent around him, there isn’t a ton of film on Mitchell in hard press coverage. In order to help cover more of the field, Mitchell was often in zone or off-man coverage. Teams will want to get him coached up on press techniques early. Similarly, Mitchell lacks experience in the slot, playing almost exclusively on the outside in college.

At the NFL scouting combine, Mitchell only improved his draft stock. He showed off speed that we already knew was there with a 4.33-second 40-yard dash. He also displayed a surprising strength and explosiveness in the bench press and jumps that, while not elite, were very impressive. Everything he did in Indianapolis was just a confirmation of what he’s put on film at Toledo for the last two years.

Mitchell is almost certain to become the Rockets’ first first-round selection in 31 years. Both ESPN’s Matt Miller and Dane Brugler of The Athletic have Mitchell ranked as the second-best cornerback prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft behind only Alabama’s Terrion Arnold. Brugler ranks Mitchell as the draft’s 11th best prospect, while Miller ranks him slightly lower at 15th.

Mitchell is an NFL-ready cornerback likely to start immediately wherever he is chosen to go. Team’s will be tempted to utilize his elite abilities on special teams, something he excelled at with Toledo, but his elite speed and ball skills will immediately become a factor on some mid-first round team’s defense. Mitchell is finally about to step into the spotlight, and how he handles it will determine whether or not Toledo has produced another unexpected NFL contributor.

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