Over the weekend before Early Signing Day, Virginia Tech gained three commitments including one from SWVA star TE James Mitchell. Mitchell was a top Virginia Tech target for well over a year with Mitchell being the Hokies’ only TE target after Kyle Pitts committed to Florida over the summer.
James Mitchell is rated as a four-star by Rivals with Rivals and 247 Sports ranking him as the sixth best recruit in Virginia while ESPN has him 12th in the Commonwealth and the 247 Sports Composite has him 13th. Mitchell is ranked as the 13th best TE by Rivals while ESPN has him as the seventh best TE-H.
So what type of player are the Hokies getting in Mitchell? We take a look at his skill sets in this scouting report.
The first thing that stands out with Mitchell is his size at 6’4”-6’5” and around 225 pounds. Mitchell will benefit from being in Ben Hilgart’s weight room and should be able to add 25-35 pounds. Mitchell has the size to give the Hokies a big receiving attention on the outside as Bucky Hodges did in 2016 and how Justin Fuente was going to use Drake Deiuliis this season between his redshirt getting pulled and picking up an injury.
This past season, James Mitchell played mostly at quarterback for Union High School. The motivation was clear as Union wanted the ball in their best athlete as much as possible, something that Justin Fuente recently mentioned as a positive when talking about guys who played QB in high school, but will not be playing there in college.
At quarterback, Mitchell’s athleticism was on display as he showed that he some of the athletic to be a very effective pass-catching tight end. Mitchell has good speed for a tight end/bigger receiver and while a 4.76 40 yard dash may not be that impressive, Mitchell appears a little faster than that on tape. Mitchell isn’t going to run by guys, but he has enough speed to give linebackers some problems in coverage.
James Mitchell’s agility is also fairly impressive for a guy who is his size. However, that probably is due to the fact that Mitchell has a multi-sport background as shown by his experience playing high school basketball. For any high school athlete that wonders whether they should just focus on football or play multiple sports, Mitchell is one of many cases as to why playing multiple sports is better in almost every case.
Because of the fact that he played mostly quarterback this season, we didn’t see a lot of Mitchell working at WR, but he did show some of the skills that you want in a quality pass catching tight end beyond just having quality speed, agility, and athleticism.
From some of his defensive highlights, you can see that Mitchell can be a guy who can go up and win some 50-50 balls. For a bigger pass-catching tight end, that is a must and Mitchell got a few interceptions that way by winning some 50-50 balls.
James Mitchell also is comfortable with the ball in his hands and is able to make some plays in space or navigate some blocks on screen plays. Mitchell was used some as a receiver on some short, checkdown-type passes that you can expect a tight end to be used for on play action passes.
James Mitchell is comfortable in space and has fairly good downfield vision to read his blocks and see which lanes are the best. Mitchell has benefited from returning punts for his high school, something you almost never see from a TE but has helped him improve his vision by having to read the field and see what lanes he has available to him based on his blocking.
Mitchell is raw as a blocker, but the basics of his blocking technique is solid and something the Hokies can work with. VT also won’t need Mitchell to come in and immediately be a starting-level blocker at TE with Dalton Keene having the h-back job locked down and Chris Cunningham also having some blocking ability. However, Mitchell will need some work on his blocking ability.
The chances of Mitchell being a bust are low which is largely due to his character and work ethic that were praised by about a million different people (okay, it was about 4 or 5 but could have been a lot more) before he announced his commitment to VT. That type of character and work ethic is what you want in a football player, and that’s what the Hokies are getting.
Mitchell’s route-running skills are fairly raw and possibly a little rusty after working at quarterback this past season, but his size, athleticism, and ability to catch some 50-50 balls make him a possible back up next fall. Not arriving in the spring may limit Mitchell’s ability to play early, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he ends up redshirting next fall.
In the long term, Mitchell is in the Bucky Hodges/Drake Deiuliis mold of VT tight ends as primarily a pass catcher. This may seem like a lazy description based on Mitchell’s reputation as more of a receiver but after watching the tape, it’s clear that he is built similar to guys like Hodges and Deiuliis.
Like Deiuliis, Mitchell will work at TE and be developed to not only work as a slot and outside reciever, but also to be a traditional tight end. Mitchell may have some comfort lining up in the backfield as an h-back as he did that at times when he wasn’t at QB as a high school senior.
Mitchell’s development as a blocker likely will have an impact on his role, but the worst case is that he becomes a big, physical receiver who gives VT a guy who can win 50-50 balls and can be a red zone threat. That’s still pretty good while the ceiling for Mitchell is quite high as he has some of the blocking basics to develop into a quality receiver that can be relied on to stay in the game and be an effective blocker.
There’s always some who wonder if a guy like James Mitchell is overrated because the competition he faced wasn’t as good against smaller schools as it may be for high school players from larger areas like the 757, Northern Virginia, or Richmond.
However, Mitchell is simply a stud recruit and will be a playmaker for the Hokies whether that is as only a big, outside receiver or as a well-rounded tight end who can be trusted to be an effective blocker outside the tackles, not just a quality pass catcher. No one should be surprised if Mitchell maximizes his potential as a great athlete with the character and work ethic to become a very good tight end for the Hokies.