Malcolm Mitchell

AFC Notes: Patriots, Luck, Henne

The Patriots‘ best chance to replace the bruising and punishing running of LeGarrette Blount, who was a key part of the team’s success over the past few seasons, could come from a surprising source. In his first attempt to predict the Patriots’ 53-man roster, Jim McBride of the Boston Globe says that UDFA LeShun Daniels, Jr. might be the best-equipped of New England’s stacked running back group to fill Blount’s void. McBride does not believe Daniels will make the team out of camp, writing that he is more likely a practice squad candidate at the moment, but the future is bright for the 6-foot, 225-pounder, who excelled in his senior season at Iowa.

Now for more from the AFC:

  • Patriots wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell was kept on the sideline during spring practices, but Mike Reiss of ESPN.com says there is nothing to worry about. Mitchell has a more extensive injury history than many second-year players, and New England is handling his workload accordingly to ensure they can keep him healthy for the long haul.
  • We heard earlier this week that Andrew Luck may not be ready for training camp, leading some to wonder if he is also in danger of missing the start of the regular season. Kevin Bowen of Colts.com, however, does not believe that’s the case. Bowen says that if the team was really concerned about Luck’s availability for Week 1, the team would have brought in a veteran QB to compete with backup Scott Tolzien.
  • Alex Marvez of NFL.com tweets that Chargers linebacker Nick Dzubnar is completely healed from the ACL tear that prematurely ended his 2016 season. Dzubnar has primarily served as a special teams contributor during his first two years in the league, but he has performed very well in that role.
  • Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union takes his first crack at predicting the Jaguars‘ 53-man roster, and there do not seem to be any major surprises there. One point of intrigue is the quarterback position, as O’Halloran speculates that second-year signal-caller Brandon Allen, who was good enough in camp and the preseason last year to convince Jacksonville to keep a third QB for the first time since 2013, could unseat longtime backup Chad Henne.
  • Earlier today we took a look at a few notes on the Steelers and Browns.

Malcolm Mitchell Could Play Next Week

The Patriots were able to survive last night’s playoff matchup with the underdog Texans, but New England’s offense was uncharacteristically sluggish and the 34-16 final score did not tell the full story. Luckily for the Pats, however, rookie wideout Malcolm Mitchell could be returning for the AFC Championship Game next week. Per Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald (via Twitter), there is “strong optimism” that Mitchell could be back for the game that could catapult New England to yet another Super Bowl appearance.

Dec 4, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell (19) is tackled by Los Angeles Rams defensive back Michael Jordan (35) during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

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Mitchell, who was selected in the fourth round of this year’s draft, put together a nice rookie season, catching 32 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns. He demonstrated an early aptitude in grasping New England’s unique offensive scheme, and he was able to carry that success into the regular season.

However, Mitchell suffered a knee injury in the team’s Week 16 contest against the Jets and was inactive for the Week 17 tilt against the Dolphins. After being limited in practice in the week leading up to last night’s divisional round playoff game, Mitchell was officially deactivated prior to kickoff. Newly-acquired Michael Floyd saw a pass bounce off his hands for an interception last night–although the throw was not an especially good one–so Mitchell, who has established a strong rapport with Tom Brady, could take back some of the slot receiver snaps that Floyd has enjoyed in Mitchell’s absence.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

East Notes: Pats, Bruton, Eagles

The Patriots‘ vaunted offense is not for everyone, as Mike Reiss of ESPN.com writes. Indeed, accomplished veterans and highly-drafted receivers alike have often struggled to adapt to New England’s unique offensive scheme, and current wideout Danny Amendola–who has not been immune to those struggles himself–explains why. Said Amendola, “In our offense, especially at the wideout position, it’s all about feeling. It’s about trying to find open space, using your eyes…In our offense, it’s kind of like if you take away all the street signs on the road and you kind of just drive — you yield and stop at an intersection just by what you feel and what you see with your eyes.”

It makes sense, then, that there would be growing pains for young receivers, regardless of the scheme their college might have run. Only a select few players have been able to establish a consistent rapport with Tom Brady over the years, but thus far 2016 fourth-rounder Malcolm Mitchell has shown an early aptitude in making the transition that has baffled so many others.

Let’s take a look at a few more notes from the league’s east divisions:

  • Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice.com takes a way-too-early look at the Eagles‘ draft needs for 2017, a list that is currently headlined by the offensive tackle position. Philadelphia looks as if it will field the oldest offensive line in the league for the second consecutive season, and with Jason Peters‘ career coming to an end soon, the Eagles will need to continue to stock up on bookends.
  • Former Broncos safety David Bruton, who signed a three-year deal with the Redskins in March, was brought to Washington to bring some semblance of stability to the team’s safety position, an area that has been a consistent weakness for the Redskins over the past decade. Both Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir of CSNWashington.com believe that Bruton will open Week 1 as the starter at strong safety over former Denver teammate Duke Ihenacho, particularly since Bruton has been taking virtually all of the first-team snaps at the position in offseason workouts. But, as is always the case with Washington’s safety depth chart, the situation will remain fluid.
  • Anthony Chiang of PalmBeachPost.com takes a look at where each of the Dolphins‘ 2016 draft choices stand entering training camp. Both Laremy Tunsil and Xavien Howard, the team’s top two selections, have a good chance to become starters in their rookie campaigns, but both will need to make considerable strides in training camp to do that. Third-rounder Leonte Carroo, meanwhile, might have been the most impressive rookie in offseason workouts and already looks primed for a significant role in Miami’s offense.

East Notes: Giants, J. Marshall, Patriots

Let’s take a quick swing around the league’s east divisions:

  • Jordan Raanan of NJ.com believes the Giants will bring in a veteran wide receiver at some point over the next couple of months, though there is no rush for the team to do so right now, as there is currently not much of a market for the remaining free agent wideouts. Raanan sees Anquan Boldin and Andre Johnson as potential fits, as both bring the size and physicality that would complement the speed of diminutive receivers Odell Beckham, Jr., Sterling Shepard, and Victor Cruz while giving Eli Manning another credible redzone threat.
  • 13 of the Jets’ crop of 14 undrafted free agents received signing bonuses, and three of those players–Jalin Marshall, Doug Middleton, and Lawrence Thomas–received bonuses higher than $10K, suggesting that they were “priority” free agents. Of that trio, Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com sees Marshall, the former Ohio State wideout, as the player with the best chance to make the club, as he has the kick return ability to contribute right away while he develops his fledgling receiver skills. Gang Green, of course, struggled mightily in the return game last year.
  • Former NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett, one of the Patriots‘ three third-round draft choices this year, is the only New England draftee who has not yet signed his rookie contract, as Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com observes. Brissett is the league’s only draft pick to not hire a traditional sports agent, instead relying on former NFL safety Abram Elam, whom Brissett is consulting as an adviser, and NFLPA director of salary cap and agent administration, Mark Levin. Although rookie contracts under the new CBA are fairly straightforward as a result of the rookie wage scale–Brissett himself has said that the deal will get done, and he will get a four-year contract worth roughly $3MM with a $680K signing bonus–the Brissett situation serves as a reminder that there is still some back-and-forth between teams and rookies, especially third-round draftees. As Reiss points out, while nearly 75% of this year’s draft class has signed, only 15 of 35 third-round picks have inked their rookie deals. First- and second-round picks can receive a maximum of 25% allocation of a team’s rookie salary cap, but because the third round does not max out at 25%, there is often debate over what the correct percentage should be, and therefore more room for negotiation and the inclusion of incentives like workout bonuses.
  • In the same piece linked above, Reiss observes that Patriots’ fourth-round draft pick Malcolm Mitchell was one of 41 rookies invited to the NFL Players Association Premiere in Los Angeles from May 19-22, and he was the only one that did not attend the event. Mitchell reportedly felt traveling cross country before arriving back in town at midnight tonight or early tomorrow morning would have put him in a position where he wouldn’t be at his best for tomorrow’s start of voluntary organized team activities. Although the NFLPA might not be in love with Mitchell’s decision, New England will certainly appreciate Mitchell’s concern for his new club.

Patriots Reach Deals With Five Draftees

1:32pm: Patriots third-round offensive lineman Joe Thuney has also signed his rookie deal, as Ben Volin of The Boston Globe tweets. For Thuney, it’ll be a four-year deal worth $3.54MM with a signing bonus of $773K. The offensive lineman out of North Carolina State drew interest from clubs thanks to his versatility — he started all along the O-Line in college.

1:28pm: The Patriots aren’t wasting any time locking up their 2016 draft class, having already reached deals with four of their draftees from last weekend, including top pick Cyrus Jones, as Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle tweets.New England Patriots general helmet (Featured)

Fourth-round receiver Malcolm Mitchell, sixth-round offensive lineman Ted Karras, and seventh-round wideout Devin Lucien have also agreed to terms with New England, according to reports from ESPN’s Adam Caplan, Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, and ESPN’s Mike Reiss, respectively (all Twitter links).

The rookie contracts for the four draft picks who have reached agreements with the Pats will look like this, per Over The Cap:

  • 2-60: Cyrus Jones, DB (Alabama): $4.007MM total value, $1.114MM signing bonus
  • 4-112: Malcolm Mitchell, WR (Georgia): $2.918MM total value, $578K signing bonus
  • 6-221: Ted Karras, OL (Illinois): $2.17MM total value, $100K signing bonus
  • 7-225: Devin Lucien, WR (Arizona State): $2.425MM total value, $85K signing bonus

With four draftees having agreed to terms, the Pats still have more than half of their nine-man draft class to lock up, including two third-round picks — quarterback Jacoby Brissett and defensive tackle Vincent Valentine.

Although contracts for third-rounders can sometimes be trickier to negotiate than deals for later-round picks, Brissett appears to be proceeding without any formal representation. Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald notes (via Twitter) that the signal-caller is being advised by Abe Elam, but doesn’t officially have an agent.

Zach Links contributed to this post.