FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and rookie wide receivers haven’t always been a productive pairing over the years, but 2016 fourth-round draft choice Malcolm Mitchell of Georgia is rewriting the script.
Coming off a clutch performance in Sunday’s 30-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers in which he finished with four catches for 98 yards and an impressive catch-and-run 56-yard touchdown, Mitchell earned praise from Brady that usually doesn’t come the way of first-year pass-catchers.
“I’ve just been impressed with him since the day he came in and his personality is infectious,” Brady said. “He’s growing along with everybody else. It’s been really great to see.”
Rookie receiver s haven’t always grown in New England. In fact, it’s been an Achilles heel of sorts for the team and theories have been presented as to why, from the system being too complicated to Brady being a hard-driving leader who is tough to win over.
The list of young pass-catchers who didn’t meet their draft status includes Bethel Johnson (second round, 2003), P.K. Sam (fifth round, 2004), Chad Jackson (second round, 2006), Brandon Tate (third round, 2009), Taylor Price (third round, 2010), Aaron Dobson (second round, 2013) and Josh Boyce (fourth round, 2013).
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Mitchell, whose feel-good book-club story generated a media buzz around the time of the draft, has shown promising signs that he won’t be joining that list.
Just listen to Brady.
“He’s very smart. I can’t say enough good things about him and what he’s accomplished, getting his opportunity and taking advantage of it,” Brady said Monday during his weekly appearance on sports radio WEEI’s “Kirk and Callahan” program.
“I don’t know what people expected of him this year, but I know our coaches really liked him before the draft and I watched some tape of him the day of the draft just kind of because I knew we were interested. The things that I saw, I really liked.”
Mitchell, who has 11 receptions for 193 yards on the season, played a season-high 65 snaps in Sunday’s win as he filled in for injured starter Chris Hogan. In his WEEI interview, Brady called him “a young kid who really wants to work hard and do the right thing," adding that he has a “positive personality, a smile on his face, and shows up to work every day with a great attitude.”
That type of approach has helped the 23-year-old Mitchell earn respect from the oldest player in the locker room, the 39-year-old Brady.
“That’s how you become a professional. You’re dealing with a lot of grown men and you come in at 22 or 23 years old, you better know that your competition is,” Brady said on WEEI. “The more you don’t really commit yourself, the harder it’s going to be. Malcolm has really committed himself to being the best player he can be and it’s really showed when he gets an opportunity.”
One trait that stands out to Brady when it comes to Mitchell?
“He’s got great hands, really big hands for a receiver … kind of like Gronk,” he said on the radio program. “Malcolm has such confidence in his hands and it’s great for run after catch because the ball never gets to your body and slows you down. You can really snatch the ball away from defensive backs.”