Oakland Raiders safety Mike Mitchell (photo by Levi Damien)
This former surprise second round pick has never lived up to the potential the Raiders saw in him. The optimistic answer is that Mitchell is simply living in the shadow of Tyvon Branch and Michael Huff. But behind those two, returning safety Matt Giordano has shown he can thrive, while Mitchell has not.
At some point last season, opposing teams watched tape and realized the weakest link in the Raiders' defense is number 34. When he came on the field, somehow you knew the opposing quarterback was going to be targeting the receiver he was defending, or running at the area in which he was assigned.
If I had to pinpoint when the other teams figured this out I would have to say it was some time before week 13 in Miami. The Dolphins exposed Mitchell in that game en route to putting up 35 points. The Packers continued the onslaught the following week, and though Mitchell had a nice interception in the game, it in no way made up for the rest of his performance.
The final game of the season was also quite brutal. Antonio Gates made Mitchell look silly in the receiving game when he caught an easy 38 yard touchdown on him.
That was three critical games late in the season in which Mitchell had a target on his back by the opposing offense and they lit him up like a Christmas tree in all three phases-- the run game, pass game, and on special teams. And the result was the Raiders losing four of their final five games and missing out on the playoffs.
I hear fans who like to say how Mitchell locks down tight ends but I just don't see it. It sounds more like one person said it and then another and another until it just became a common belief like an old wives tale or something. And with as little as we see Mitchell in games, there is not much to disprove it either.
(Is a safety covering a tight end really that impressive, anyway? Raise the bar a little. He should be stopping the run first and foremost. Then cover a wide receiver or a running back splitting out of the backfield as a receiver and I might be impressed.)
Now, Mitchell isn't on the practice field to prove his worth either. He has an injured knee and we won't see him until training camp at the earliest. His absence is allowing hopefuls like Curtis Taylor to make a case for their deserving to be part of the team.
This is an open competition now. There is no favoritism given for Mitchell or anyone else based on draft position. If anything it works against him because he carries a cap hit of just under $1 million. If the team sees equal or greater production from someone else, they very well could part ways.