Allen Park — Detroit Lions rookie tight end James Mitchell probably found out about the T.J. Hockenson trade the same way you did.
“I was just sitting at home and actually got the notification on ESPN,” Mitchell told reporters Wednesday, nearly a full 24 hours after the leader of his position group was traded to the Minnesota Vikings ahead of the NFL’s trade deadline.
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“(I) was a little shocked, but business is business,” he said.
Indeed, and business is about to be booming for the rookie tight end out of Viriginia Tech who went to the Lions as a fifth-round pick in this past year’s NFL Draft.
So far, he’s taken just 21 offensive snaps in the NFL, thanks to a torn ACL suffered in his final year at Virginia Tech that severely limited his transition process into the pros. But he was activated for the first time on Oct. 2 against Seattle and made his first reception on Sunday against Miami. With one of the team’s top pass catchers moving on, it’s likely that he’ll take on a larger role as he becomes more acclimated, Lions head coach Dan Campbell said.
“Mitchell has, every week, gotten a little bit better,” Campebll said. “He hasn’t gotten a heavy lead, but this we’ll be — he’s going to get more on his plate now, and we think he’ll be ready for that.”
Mitchell thinks he’ll be ready, too.
“I do feel ready. I think they’ve done a good job preparing me. I haven’t got over six snaps in a game, but I’ve been repping a lot in practice and just building that trust and confidence in myself. I’m ready,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell showed promise as a dominant pass catcher in college. He caught just 47 passes over as a freshman and sophomore, but parlayed them into six touchdowns and an average reception of 16.9 yards. Though the injury cut short a season where he could have thrived as a matured player, the Lions still saw enough in him after two seasons to take him with a fifth-round selection — risking the chance to draft someone like, say, standout rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez, for example.
As far as the acclimation process, Mitchell said he can help build a little chemistry with Lions quarterback Jared Goff by throwing extra with him after practice, going over game scripts or extra meetings ahead of games.
Goff added, “I think he’s coming in as more of a pass catcher for sure. He did a little bit of that in college and has that in his DNA, and so has done a good job with developing that, and I’ve seen it today, and even on scout team, we kind of saw it develop as this season has gone on.
“And again, a guy that I’ve slowly started to become very trustworthy with, and it’s really all that matters when these guys are running routes and catching passes for us.”
Mitchell shared his appreciation for Hockenson taking him under his wing during the short time they were in Detroit together and said that Hockenson reached out to the tight end room to say “he appreciated us and he was always there for us.”
“… (He) helped me a lot. Even when he wasn’t telling me something, just watching him how he handles himself, how he carries himself, just getting different techniques and tidbits and things like that,” Mitchell said. “He would always give them to me, so he’s really helped speed up my process.”