Mike Mitchell’s journey to the NFL has not exactly been the path of least resistance. The strong safety from Ohio University put up some impressive numbers in college including 212 total tackles, 7 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles. However, like many that come from a lower tier college, Mitchell was met with a lot of doubt because of the level of competition he played against. A player who never seems to be lacking confidence on the field, would need to quickly find an abundance of it in order to make one last effort to prove his value to scouts prior to the NFL Draft.
Mike’s impressive play on the field was not his only meal ticket though. He also had the measurables that most scouts would drool over. At 6′ 1″ 220 lbs Mitchell ran a 4.39 forty yard dash and put up 22 reps on the bench. With those kind of numbers he was sure to be noticed by scouts all over the place. The classic workout numbers that sends guys shooting up draft boards every February and making them very hard to ignore. Mike’s draft stock took another hit though when he failed to receive an invite to the NFL combine where he could have put his workout numbers out there for everyone to take notice. That meant that his pro day performance alone would have to be enough garner interest around the league.
Leading up to the draft Mitchell began getting some attention as a potential riser come draft day. Of course the Raiders were mentioned as a potential landing spot for a guy who ran a sub 4.4 forty combined with the raw physical talent that he possessed. The hype did not fall on deaf ears though as fans began to fall in love with YouTube highlight video’s and started getting excited about the potential steal that could be Mike Mitchell. On draft day though, the surprise did not come from the fact that he was drafted, but it was where he was drafted at that had everyone buzzing. Mitchell had gone from a lower tier prospect to being drafted in the 2nd round, pick number 47 overall in the 2009 NFL draft.
Now, instead of trying to draw attention to himself, Mike had much more attention then he wanted. Being tagged as a potential bust by many analyst before he even stepped foot on an NFL field, the pressure was just beginning to mount. The draft day surprise was something that Raiders fans were growing accustom to though, and all the sudden Mitchell was being labeled as the next Jack Tatum for his aggressiveness and big hit potential.
Left standing in the middle of a proverbial spotlight, the only thing left for Mitchell to do was to perform and prove all the doubters wrong. Things didn’t go quite as smoothly as hoped early in his career though. When Mitchell wasn’t battling injuries he struggled to adapt to NFL competition and often times found himself out of position or over pursuing a play due to being overly aggressive. The hunger for the big hit and crowd pleasing play seemed to become more important than playing effectively and taking care of his assignment. Were the attributes that made him such an attractive prospect turning out to be the very reason why he wasn’t succeeding in the NFL?
What many failed to realize though is that Mitchell was being expected to play the role of the aggressor in a defense which lacked that philosophy much of the time. How soon do you commit to the run looking to deliver a big hit when your assignment is covering the tight end up the seam? When do you blitz in a scheme solely designed around rushing four and dropping seven into coverage? How do you introduce the element of surprise when your on an island in the open field trying to make a tackle? The expectations didn’t seem to match the defensive philosophy that the Raiders were trying to execute. While schemes may have played a part in the early struggles for Mike, it certainly was not the only problem he had though. Mitchell still had to get past the mental mistakes that would cost him at times as well, but when combined scheme mismatch, and injuries it certainly did not create a recipe for early success.
Now in year four, Mitchell is getting a much-needed fresh start. Finally given a clean bill of health, he seems to be comfortable in Jason Tarver’s new defense where aggression is certainly not hard to come by. Mike figures to be moved around a lot as Tarver tries to utilize his versatility. He will not only be asked to play both safety positions at times, but also see some time at linebacker as well in certain looks. This will also help give the coaches a chance to see how he performs in different roles. Only two games into the preseason though, it is much to early to make any rash judgements. Take Mitchell’s progress for what it is at face value and look at it as a positive step in the right direction for a career that began heading in the wrong one. If Mike Mitchell is to achieve success in the NFL he will have to find a way to continue to improve as the line between fame and failure remains very thin.