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What could return of Malcolm Mitchell mean for Patriots offense?

Ryan Hannable
December 27, 2017 - 2:28 pm

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady could be getting a receiver in his circle of trust back for the final regular-season game and postseason.

Second-year player Malcolm Mitchell returned to practice for the first time since Week 1 on Wednesday, as he's spent the year on injured reserve with a knee injury. He's the second of two players the team is allowed to bring back off of injured reserve this year. The Patriots now have 21 days to activate him to the roster, but it looks like it may be this weekend for the final game of the year against the Jets.

According to NBC Sports Boston's Mike Giardi, the Patriots will "take it day-by-day" with him, but believe he "has real chance" to make his season debut on Sunday.

So, what does his return mean for the offense?

Mitchell would give Brady another possession receiver on the outside, which has been a weakness this year. As a rookie last year, he earned Brady's trust finishing the season with 32 catches, 401 yards and four touchdowns. In the Super Bowl, he had six receptions for 70 yards. Right now, the Patriots are struggling against man-to-man coverage and if Mitchell could make a few plays outside the numbers, this might help free up some other plays down the field.

If Mitchell were to be activated, the corresponding move might have to involve a receiver.

As of now there is Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt and Chris Hogan (injured), as well as special teamer Matthew Slater. Although it's possible, it seems unlikely the team would be able to carry this many receivers on the roster. One option would be to place Hogan (shoulder) on injured reserve, but the fact that he's practiced the last two weeks is a sign he isn't done for the year. This likely means it would be between Dorsett and Britt.

Dorsett came over in the Jacoby Brissett trade right before the year and he's signed through next season, while Britt was signed to a two-year deal as a free agent a few weeks back. It's worth noting the Patriots could easily get out of Britt's deal after this season. Dorsett has shown flashes of being able to make plays, but he has been very inconsistent. A full offseason in the system could help him make more of an impact and the fact he was traded for Brissett could make Bill Belichick more apt to holding on to him.

From this viewpoint, if Mitchell is activated to the roster, Britt will be released, another player (potentially Geneo Grissom) would get cut, or a surprise player (Rex Burkhead, Alan Branch) could go on IR.

A Mitchell return certainly would not change the entire offense, but it would give it something it's missed for much of the season.

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