Darrius Heyward-Bey remains the most publicized “reach” in the NFL draft, gaining at least some small measure of vindication by scoring his first touchdown in a 24-7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving.
As much heat as the Raiders took for taking Heyward-Bey at No. 7 overall, the fact is most draft analysts had the Maryland receiver going late in the first round.
Safety Mike Mitchell, on the other hand, was one of the draft’s great mysteries. When the Raiders made the pick in the second round, No. 47 overall, the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, knowledgable enough to have been the first to connect the dots with Heyward-Bey and the Raiders, admitted he was stumped.
Mayock wasn’t the only one. Mel Kiper Jr. said he had Mitchell rated somewhere between No. 40 and No. 70 _ and that wasn’t rating players overall. It was rating only the safeties. He considered Mitchell no better than a seventh-round pick or undrafted free agent.
It was later speculated the Chicago Bears were considering taking Mitchell at No. 49 if the Raiders hadn’t struck at No. 47, and it’s a fact that Mitchell was piling up frequent flyer miles by visiting NFL teams in the weeks leading up to the draft.
Exactly where Mitchell would have gone had the Raiders not called, no one knows for sure. Also unknown is exactly what kind of players the Raiders have, as Mitchell battled hamstring problems dating back to pre-drat workouts and all the way through training camp.
“For the things I’ve been asked to do I’ve had a good year, but for my standards it hasn’t been anything close to what I wanted it to be,” Mitchell said Monday during the Raiders’ open locker room session.
Mitchell’s goals coming into the season?
“Being a starter, making an impact, but you know, injuries happen, and it’s something I hard to work through and push through,” Mitchell said.
So Mitchell is still waiting for a chance to silence draft day skeptics, realizing he may have to wait until next year.
“That’s the thing that irks me the most about how this year has gone for me,” Mitchell said. “There were some things that were said that I still don’t like and I’m still looking forward to proving myself right. Not necessarily proving them wrong, but just proving myself right, and I’m not going to stop until I do that.”
Fans who saw Mitchell and were less than overwhelmed early in the season had some company in Mitchell himself.
“If you could look at my college tape, and then look at how I was running around earlier in the year and at training camp and in practice, that’s not even the same football player,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said the hamstring injury limited his ability to run and work out, and only recently has he begun to feel his old burst and strength. He’s told friends and family he feels like he’s redshirting in his rookie year, with the bonus of getting a little playing time along with learning the ropes from veterans such as Nnamdi Asomugha and Michael Huff and second-year safety Tyvon Branch.
“I’m seeing the game through their eyes and not being necessarily be forced out there and do everything, even though I’d love to be out there and doing everything,” Mitchell said. “It is a chance to let me grow and learn things at a slower pace and it’s been a lot easier.”
Mitchell said his defensive snaps have increased in some packages and that he hopes to stay healthy, finish the season strong and then take “about two days” before coming back to Oakland and begin training for his second season.
It’s not lost on Mitchell that Branch, one of his closest friends on the team, missed a lot of time due to injuires as a rookie and in his second season has developed into possibly the Raiders’ third best defensive player behind Asomugha and Richard Seymour.
In the long run, it remains to be seen whether Branch or Mitchell can be starters at the same time. The Raiders have historically played with one single high safety _ the position currently manned by Huff _ and both players are more suited to being in the box.
“I don’t want to look too far ahead because I don’t know what their plans are upstairs,” Mitchell said. “I’m just here to play safety, and that’s what I’m going to do, I’m going to do it to the best of our ability. In college I was very versatile and I could play anywhere. I could play nickel, free safety, strong safety, so I can do a lot of different things.”
More to come . . .