At this time last year, there weren’t many positive things to say about Mike Mitchell’s NFL career.
Drafted earlier than many projected (second round, 47th overall) by the Raiders back in 2009, the Ohio product managed to start just nine games in four seasons. He signed with the Panthers on a one-year, $1 million deal, and after a solid 2013 campaign, Mitchell could be an attractive option for teams needing safety help this offseason.
The chances of the Eagles landing Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward appear to be slim. Of the safeties in the next tier, Mitchell fits a lot of the qualities (we think) Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman are looking for.
Mitchell is 26 and has the measurables. The 6-foot, 210-pounder was not invited to the combine coming out of college but reportedly ran a 4.39 40 at his Pro Day. He never started more than four games in a season for the Raiders and played a total of 1,576 snaps there, per Pro Football Focus. That's roughly the equivalent of a year and a half for a full-time starter.
Mitchell played free safety for the Panthers and only lined up in the box 22.7 percent of the time on run snaps, per PFF. That ranked 52nd out of the 63 safeties who played at least 50 percent of their team's snaps in 2013. In coverage, he was a big hitter whose athleticism showed up on tape.
In this play against the Falcons, he's in charge of the deep middle part of the field. Roddy White is going to run a crosser in front of Mitchell.
He doesn't bite on the play-fake and starts to inch up. You can see in the next frame that Mitchell has about 7 yards of ground to make up before Matt Ryan's pass gets to White.
But he closes quickly, meets White in the air and breaks up the pass.
Sean McDermott and the Panthers' coaching staff used Mitchell in a variety of ways. He tied for the league lead among safeties with four sacks. But the following play where he showed blitz and then dropped back caught my attention.
He starts the play off next to the linebackers and takes a step forward like he's going to blitz.
Ryan thinks he'll have White on a deep dig, but Mitchell retreats quickly.
The pass-rush gets home, but Mitchell does his part by catching up with White and not giving Ryan the option of going that way with the football.
In man coverage, Mitchell held up well, although that aspect was tough at times to evaluate because he didn't do it a ton, and the Panthers' ferocious front seven often forced opposing QBs to get rid of the ball quickly.
Much will be made of Mitchell's poor tackling. Per PFF, his 18 missed tackles were tied for most in the NFL among safeties, and he was last in tackling efficiency. There's no question he needs to improve in that area, but from what I saw, the issue wasn't with taking bad angles, but rather sometimes going for the huge hits.
And there's a case to be made that coaching can help. Nate Allen, for example, jumped from 46th to 13th in PFF's tackling efficiency category from 2012 to 2013.
Mitchell is someone who likes to try to punish opponents. From a Charlotte Observer article back in October:
Mitchell does sometimes draw flags for his hits, which sometimes do border on being late. "Sometimes I do play on the edge," he said. "I’ve been trying to tone that back lately because I’ve been flagged a couple of times. But I can’t help it."
Said defensive end Greg Hardy of Mitchell: "A good word to describe him is ‘attack.’... He’s my type of guy. I love him. I don’t have to worry about him pulling up on the sideline. I know the play is going to get finished and if it’s not, me and Luke (Kuechly) are going to be right there. That’s three guys who play out of control."
Overall, during the 2013 regular season, Mitchell was only called for three penalties, despite his physical, aggressive style. He did get fined on a number of occasions and said the money goes right in Roger Goodell's pocket. In other words, if he does land in Philadelphia, you can be sure that Kelly will channel the old Play with emotion, don't let emotion play with you mantra at some point when discussing Mitchell.
But given his measurables, age and 2013 production, Mitchell fits a lot of what the Eagles are looking for. Of course, the Panthers see the same things and will likely make a push to hold on to him.
"I want to come back here and finish what we started, finish this the right way, with this group of men," Mitchell said following the team's playoff loss to the 49ers, per FoxSports.com. "I haven't played on a team with this type of coaches, these type of teammates probably since I was a 17 year old boy. Great group of guys and I want to finish this."
But if he does hit the market, Mitchell is someone the Eagles should take a close look at.