The Dr. Saturday site recently ran a series on the top five offensive players poised for a comeback in 2014. Their choices are fine, but the category immediately brought one Georgia player to mind: Malcolm Mitchell.
Mitchell’s freak injury just minutes into the 2013 season, but his entire career has been plagued by fits and starts with injuries and position changes keeping him from putting up the numbers you’d expect from the team’s most talented receiver. When healthy and on his game, he’s among the best receivers in the nation. His catch rate (how often a receiver catches passes thrown his way) was well over 70% in both 2011 and 2012. It was a whopping 79% on passing downs in 2011.
That kind of dependable target certainly contributed to Aaron Murray’s rise, but Mitchell (along with Tavarres King) gave the Bulldog offense something else: a downfield threat. As Jon Gruden observed, “Nobody throws the ball down field better than Georgia.” Murray was a big part of that downfield attack, but you have to have the targets. As Georgia’s receivers began to fall during the 2013 season, the vertical element of the passing game dwindled to the point where they didn’t even try to go deep at Vanderbilt.
Justin Scott-Wesley stepped up well enough in 2013, until his own season-ending injury, to maintain that vertical threat after Mitchell went down. Freshman Reggie Davis had his moments, but it would have asked a lot of a rookie to take on a larger role. The lack of a vertical passing game that was so glaring at Vanderbilt returned in the bowl game and made things that much more difficult for Hutson Mason.
On an offense with such a high-profile tailback and a very visible quarterback transition, it’s fairly easy to question the impact of a receiver who’s only had one 100+ yard game since his freshman season in 2011. Durability will naturally be a concern as injuries hit Mitchell early in both 2012 and 2013. It’s encouraging to hear that Mitchell (and some other key returnees on offense) are doing well and participating at full speed. We’ll still be holding our breath with every daily preseason injury report.
We were excited about seeing Mitchell last season in his first year completely dedicated to receiver, and we’ll double down on that this summer. His combination of reliability, explosiveness, and what he brings to the downfield element of the passing game will open up a lot of things for the rest of the offense. There are several important players poised for a 2014 comeback – even Gurley if you look at it a certain way – but few who can bring so much to the offense.