Keaton Mitchell, RB, East Carolina | NFL Draft Scouting Report

East Carolina RB Keaton Mitchell is overlooked at times, but the Pirates' star has the tools and the scouting report to be a steal in the 2023 NFL Draft.

The 2023 NFL Draft is very strong at running back, but that’s no reason to ignore East Carolina’s Keaton Mitchell. Mitchell’s scouting report lands him right in the thick of an exceptional positional class, and in the right situation, he could be one of the class’ most dynamic additions.

Keaton Mitchell NFL Draft Profile

  • Position: Running Back
  • School: East Carolina
  • Current Year: Junior
  • Height/Weight: 5’9″, 184 pounds
  • Length: TBD
  • Wingspan: TBD
  • Hand: TBD

You’ve all heard the expression: “The cream rises to the top.” It’s reduced to a cliché at times in the scouting context, but it rings true — especially at Group of Five schools, where finding diamonds in the rough in the two and three-star range is vital.

The recruiting process, even with its star rankings, can be so nebulous at times. It’s not for a star rating to say whether a player has or doesn’t have next-level potential. Few prospects are more indicative of that than Mitchell himself.

Mitchell was a three-star recruit in the 2020 class, drowned out by a group of nearly 2,000 ahead of him. The 172nd-ranked recruit in the state of Georgia, Mitchell only had two Power Five offers from Nebraska and West Virginia. He’d ultimately sign with East Carolina, where he’d aim to make his mark.

MORE: 100% FREE NFL Mock Draft Simulator

Just as the saying goes, Mitchell quickly rose to the top at the Group of Five level. After taking on a role early as a true freshman, Mitchell exploded for 1,132 yards and nine touchdowns in 2021. In 2022, he amassed 1,452 yards and 14 touchdowns on 201 carries, averaging 7.2 yards per pop, while also adding 27 catches for 252 yards and an additional score.

Mitchell was crowned as a first-team All-AAC running back in 2022, alongside only Tyjae Spears of Tulane. Like Spears, Mitchell declared early for the 2023 NFL Draft, where he’ll fight to compete for ideal capital at the RB position. In the end, his billing didn’t matter. Mitchell made the most of the hand he was dealt.

Keaton Mitchell Scouting Report

Strengths

  • Hyper-dynamic back with near-elite speed and explosiveness in open space.
  • Simultaneously spry and smooth in short areas, and can vary strides to offset defenders.
  • Has the ankle flexion to pinch around defenders while sustaining upfield acceleration.
  • With full-field vision and instincts, gravitates to open space at the second level.
  • Able to divert from vertical to horizontal plane with insane suddenness in space.
  • Has shown he can squirm through arm tackles and has great corrective twitch.
  • Has proven to identify backside lanes on duo runs and get skinny quickly.
  • Incredibly slippery runner through crowds with constant leg churn and stiff-arms.
  • Able receiving threat with impressive hand-eye coordination and translatable RAC ability.
  • Is at least a willing pass blocker who can square up defenders and use natural leverage.

Areas for Improvement

  • Initial burst, while exceptional, isn’t an elite, overwhelming trait for his size.
  • Often needs space to gear up and can’t always channel full burst out of cuts.
  • Frame is very light and undersized, and can be brought down by solo tackles.
  • Naturally doesn’t have the mass to plow through congestion and push the pile.
  • Easily stalled by hits from defenders and fades when faced with direct contact.
  • Sometimes passes up open lanes inside attempting to go outside, veering into contact.
  • Can get tunnel vision toward certain gaps and won’t always recognize open alternatives.
  • At times, can be quicker to commit to lanes and not try to do too much in the backfield.
  • Can improve footwork and timing in pass protection, and size limits ability to sustain.

East Carolina RB Keaton Mitchell Current Draft Projection

Mitchell may be one of the biggest sleepers in the 2023 NFL Draft RB class. He grades out as a late Day 2 prospect for me, within the top-100 range. His size may relegate him to Day 3 capital, but with a strong Combine performance, Mitchell could easily earn looks within the top three rounds from NFL teams.

There’s more to Mitchell’s profile than simple dynamic ability, but that’s where it starts with the East Carolina RB. At 5’9″, 184 pounds, Mitchell has devastating long-track burst and long speed in space, but he also has the flexibility to adjust his attack angles on the move and sustain acceleration through cuts and stride variations.

As dynamic as he is with space to accelerate, Mitchell is just as dangerous roaming through crowds. He has elite creative instincts at the second level and is also incredibly slippery moving through congestion when he has his legs under him. With his constant leg churn, he can squirm through tackles and continually reset and maintain his stride.

MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board

Sometimes, the problem with Mitchell, who serves as a true space weapon, is getting him to space. His vision, while solid, is not elite behind the line. At his size, he can be easily obstructed and doesn’t always have the initial burst or decisiveness to surge to the second level.

Having said all this, East Carolina’s offensive line frequently exposed Mitchell to early obstruction in the backfield, yet he was still able to produce at a high clip. He’s an elite speed threat in space with supplementary agility, twitch, balance, and feel. He’s also a great receiving threat with smooth ball-tracking ability and a skill set tuned for RAC.

On late Day 2 or early Day 3, Mitchell can be a phenomenal addition to an NFL backfield. Though he’s probably best in varied zone schemes, he has the traits to be a versatile, dynamic spark-plug with good blocking in front of him.

Tony Pauline’s Scouting Report for Keaton Mitchell

Strengths: Small, but explosive running back who creates yardage. Displays great vision, finds the running lanes, and squeezes through the small openings of the offensive line. Displays a burst of speed that he turns on in a single step and is fast enough to beat defenders around the corner.

A multi-cut ball carrier who possesses outstanding footwork, strings several moves together over the course of a single run, and makes defenders miss. Loses no momentum changing direction or avoiding defenders.

Weaknesses: Not a big or powerful ball carrier and is easily brought down at the point by a single defender. At times, does too much east/west running. Gets run over as a blocker. Not a natural pass catcher.

Overall: Mitchell is an explosive RB, with the ability to score whenever the ball is in his hands. He comes with size limitations and must improve his pass-catching ability to make a roster. Mitchell’s speed, quickness, and ability to create yardage do set him up perfectly as a potential third-down back.

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