Its been 24 years since the Mississippi State Bulldogs last had a wide receiver drafted to the NFL. With a change at head coach and a new quarterback, could Mississippi State WR Osirus Mitchell become the man to break that drought in the 2021 NFL Draft?
To quote a famous Bob Dylan song, “The Times They Are a-Changin’” and perhaps nowhere is this more true than Starkville, Mississippi. Following a dismal 6-7 season in 2019, which culminated in a defeat to Louisville in the Music City Bowl, Joe Moorhead was fired after just two seasons in charge.
To a hail of cowbells, Mike Leach arrived in Starkville as Moorhead’s replacement. The contrast in football philosophy between the two coaches couldn’t be any more, for want of a better word, stark.
Mississippi State WR Osirus Mitchell set to benefit from offensive changes
One of the main beneficiaries of the change will be WR Osirus Mitchell, who, as a senior, is set to be the leading receiver in a revamped offense.
Mitchell arrived at Mississippi State in 2016 as a three-star recruit out of Booker High School in Sarasota. He was the 169th-ranked WR nationally by 247 Sports and the 160th-ranked player in the state of Florida.
Although not highly ranked, Mitchell was productive at Booker. In his junior year, he averaged 21.7 yards per catch, and in his senior year, he compiled over 900 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns.
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Due to some academic struggles, Mitchell remained unsigned on National Signing Day. However, that setback instilled a hard-working mentality that he carried with him into his college football career. With extra work, he attained the requisite grades and received several offers, choosing Mississippi State over the likes of Minnesota.
The hard work continued during a redshirt year as a freshman in 2016
Mitchell spent his first year with the Bulldogs learning the playbook and the nuances of the college game that made it an entirely different prospect to playing high school football.
Although Mitchell would see playing time 2017, recording five receptions for 51 yards, it wouldn’t be until 2018 that the hard work would begin to pay dividends. In 2018, Mitchell led the team in touchdowns with four, and then in 2019, he was the leading Mississippi State WR in both receiving yards and touchdowns.
Although Mitchell led the team in both categories last season, the numbers don’t leap off the page when you look at college football production. Mitchell has 908 total receiving yards and 10 touchdowns during his three playing years. It isn’t exactly prolific production.
Mike Leach can help receivers produce
To understand Mitchell’s production during his Mississippi State career, you have to understand the Bulldogs’ offense. Over the last three seasons, they have gone from producing 32 points per game (ranked 41st out of 130 FBS teams) to 27 PPG (74th out of 130).
During the last two seasons, they have averaged under 25 passing attempts per game. It has been a run-first offense that has averaged 43 rushing attempts per game over the time that Mitchell has been at the program. No receiver has broken the 500 receiving yard-mark in that time.
By contrast, new Bulldogs head coach Mike Leach has spearheaded the most potent passing attacks in college football over the past 20 years. First with Texas Tech and then with Washington State, Leach has been synonymous with the “Air Raid” offense.
In the 19 years he has been a head coach, Leach has averaged 48.7 passing attempts per game. In the last six years alone, he has made 1,000-yard receivers out of Gabe Marks, Vince Mayle, Dom Williams, and Brandon Arconado. Isiah Myers and Easop Winston fell just short with 972 yards and 970 yards respectively.
Quarterbacks in Leach’s system routinely throw for 4000-plus passing yards in a season, and with K.J. Costello, there is no reason to suspect that can’t be achieved in 2020. Although he was injured in 2019, Costello averaged 8.6 yards per attempt in 2018 for Stanford with a 29:11 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Costello’s favorite target in that Stanford offense was J.J. Arceca-Whiteside, a 6’3”, 222-pound receiver who racked up 1,059 yards at 16.8 yards per reception on his way to 14 touchdowns and a second-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Mitchell can be that wide receiver in this Bulldogs offense
Although there are some areas for concern with his game, most notably an apparent lack of speed that will undoubtedly raise question marks over his ability to create separation in the NFL, there is also plenty to love with Mitchell.
At 6’5”, Mitchell presents a true deep threat. There are plenty of examples on tape of him using his size to simply get up and pluck the ball out of the air above the heads of opposing defensive backs. He also uses his size well as a boundary receiver, with a particularly impressive sideline catch against Iowa.
Mitchell also shows good contested catchability. This was showcased best with a touchdown in double coverage against Auburn. Mitchell pulled the ball out of the air and secured the touchdown catch despite the pressure of double coverage and absorbing a hit on his way to the ground. He’s more than capable of using his 210-pound frame to play a physical brand of football.
One-handed catches versus Texas A&M, Kansas State, and Tennessee show that Mitchell possesses hand strength as well as playmaking skills, with a juke and spin move combo against Louisville proving he can be more than just a deep threat.
In his recent SEC scouting report for Pro Football Network, Tony Pauline listed Mitchell alongside Costello and K.J. Hill as late-day prospects for Mississippi State in the 2021 NFL Draft.
If everything clicks between Costello and Mitchell in a Mississippi State offense led by Leach, then Mitchell could see his production, and consequently, his NFL Draft stock, rise substantially in his senior season.