The best way to describe Keaton Mitchell is power in a small frame with speed. Mitchell has tremulous talent at the running back position for a smaller school player. Due to an intense running back class, Mitchell is my RB16 among the running backs. He is likely a later-round player who could make an impact at the next level. Let’s dive deep into Mitchell’s football career.
- College: East Carolina
- Height: 5’9″
- Weight: 188 lbs
- Hand Size:9 1/4”
- Age: 21
- Year: Junior
- Draft Projection: Sixth Round
High School And Personal Life
Mitchell played his high school ball at Eagle Landing Christian Academy in Georgia. He was a two-year starter from them, rushing for 4,500 yards and 23 rushing touchdowns. He even had a game in 2019 where he had over 200 rushing yards on 22 carries. He showed early in his football career his big play ability to offer a team. He would commit to playing his college ball at East Carolina.
At East Carolina, Mitchell was a dominant force right off the bat. As a freshman, he made the most of limited opportunity rushing for 5.0 yards per carry. He has a breakout sophomore season producing over 1,300 all-purpose yards and took the starting job from Rahjai Harris in 2021. He doubled his receiving production showing his ability as a pass catcher. Mitchell continued to hold up as a Junior as well. He saw 32 more touches and averaged 7.5 yards per touch in 2022. His presence helped East Carolina go from a 3-7 team in 20202 to 15-10 over his last two seasons as the guy. He had zero fumbles last season and only two during his three-year career. He’s a balanced and intelligent back. Mitchell was crowned as a first-team All-AAC running back in 2022, alongside only Tyjae Spears of Tulane.
Mitchell is a dynamic runner and has a ton of speed to go with it. He ran a 4.37 40-yard time at the NFL combine. He ran the third fastest 40 time with only Devon Achane and Jahmyr Gibbs barely beating him out. He finished in the top three in the 10-yard split, vertical jump, and board jump. He can be a nightmare to defenders as his long speed in space is tough to catch. There is a game vs. Coastal Carolina that, on just one run, his ability to show his speed and outrun defenders.
Vision & instincts
Mitchell also has very good visions for the field to go along with the speedy dynamic runner. He quickly gets through the hole and finds the open space to get into the second level. Mitchell’s vision to see the escape from a tackle is exciting to watch on film. According to PFF, he was tied for fifth among rookie running backs in missed tackles. Mitchell has the speed to be a difference-maker for a team as a complementary back.
I think where Mitchell might make the biggest impact at the NFL level is his ability in the receiving game. We saw his receiving targets jump each season, and he finished with 60 targets. Sixty targets are about above average for a college running back to receive. He also performed well in those situations by averaging 9.7 yards per reception for over 550 yards in that span. Mitchell is twisty and has excellent contact balance to be a threat in the passing game. He’ll do great on screenplays where a team can get him into space and use his talent.
Areas of Concern
Pass Protection with Size
One of the downfalls is that Mitchell struggled at times in pass protection in college. In the NFL, it’ll be even tougher for him to pick up blitzes or hold off bigger defensive linemen. If he’s unable to take the field on passing situations, it will limit his receiving opportunities and the potential to get out in space on dump-offs or screen plays. When you’re 5’9″ and 188 pounds, it will be hard to perfectly block up a defensive end from getting past him.
Pushing Outside Run too Much
One improvement that Mitchell needs to make is to determine better where to go on his runs. If you watch the film on him, he’ll take the ball to the outside more often than take the easy runs up the middle of the field. It also could be that he knows he isn’t built for the middle of the field, so trying to make a play to the outside makes sense. Too often did I see a defender already being set up to the outside to make a tackle. My concern is that he will only have schemed on certain plays, which would limit his usage to the next level. We know he won’t be used on short yardage and goal-line runs.
Projected Draft Capital & Role
Mitchell is currently projected in the sixth round of the NFL draft on the NFL Mock Draft Database. He can serve as a complementary back to a horse-work type runner. He needs to find a team that can build up his pass-protection skills to be that third-down threat. I think a few teams, like the Raiders, Titans, and Rams, could all benefit from his skill sets in the NFL.
Dynasty Rookie Value
As we are right now, less than three weeks before the NFL draft, Mitchell is likely going to be a late-round value in the NFL draft. If he were to get top-four round capital, I’d have a better outlook on him, but that isn’t likely to happen. If Mitchell is drafted in the later rounds of the draft, then he’ll be a fourth-round rookie pick with upside. The landing spot is going to matter; if there is a chance for him to win the backup job, then he’ll be draftable in rookie drafts. He is a good depth piece to own to see if a team can maximize his value at the next level.
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