Max Mitchell: Deep Dive
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1️⃣5️⃣0️⃣ When I first started this newsletter I thought I’d give something new a try and if it didn’t work it didn’t work. After a week we had around 24 subscribers and at that point, I didn’t think we’d make 25 editions. Fast-forward around 8 months and here we are at our 150th edition and the TJW crew continues to grow daily. For that, thank you!
Today we’re going to complete our deep dive series on the Jets 2022 draftees. I think the deep dive series has been the most popular feature on TJW, so I may touch on some priority UDFA’s before the summer is through, but Max Mitchell is the final guy to feature from the class, so let’s get to it. Remember if you missed any of the others, you can head to the TJW homepage to see the archives…completely free.
Heading into the 2022 NFL draft there was intense speculation around the Jet's plans for offensive tackle. A lot of the speculation surrounded Mekhi Becton with draft analyst Dane Brugler saying “There are plenty of people around the league who believe that he’ll never put on a Jets jersey again” before the draft. All of this was in relation to the Jets’ supposed interest in drafting NC State tackle Ikem Ekwonu.
When the Jets came onto the block at #4 overall they had their choice of tackles, yet they decided to bypass the offensive line to add a little Sauce. The Jets continued to bypass the tackle position all the way to pick #111 overall, where they selected Max Mitchell out of Louisiana.
You don’t have to go too far back to find the last time the Jets drafted an offensive tackle in the fourth round, back in 2020 they drafted Cameron Clark out of Charlotte. Unfortunately for Clark and for the Jets, injury derailed his career and he was forced into early retirement this off-season. They’ll be hoping for a little more luck with Mitchell.
Mitchell was born in Monroe, Louisiana on October 12th,1999. He grew up around Monroe and attended Neville High School, located just 1/2 mile away from the Ouachita River. The Neville Tigers are historically a very successful high school when it comes to their football program having made the championship game on 17 different occasions, and winning the state championship 12 times.
I touched base with Max’s former coach at Neville (now the principal) Mickey McCarty and although he said they didn’t always know that Mitchell had D1 talent, he really “blossomed his Jr. and especially Sr. years” describing him as a “consistent worker who was a "lunch box" type guy. Nothing flashy, just steady and consistent.”
Although he played the majority of his high school career at tackle, Mickey confirmed that they did move him inside to play guard when needed, something he handled well. That versatility would come in handy during college, and although he wasn’t asked to play center at any point, McCarty confirmed: “he probably could have”.
Mitchell wasn’t recruited heavily out of Neville having received just one division one offer from Louisiana as a 2* prospect.. He did entertain offers from smaller schools like Northwestern State, Milsaps College, Arkansas-Monticello, and Ouachita Baptist, but he bet on his talent and committed to the Rajun-Cajuns, despite them already having 10 offensive tackles on the roster (some of whom would end up moving positions). “I thought he made a wise choice when choosing ULL to play at. It worked out well for him and allowed for his maturation to take place in their program and it paid off!” said his high school coach
Louisiana also had Rob Sale on the coaching staff between 2018-2020 and Sale had attended Neville High School back when he was a player, the current Florida Gators offensive coordinator did a good job recruiting his former high school with Mitchell being joined one year later by his former linemate Logan Newell.
Finally, I asked coach McCarty what the Jets would be getting having drafted Max Mitchell:
“Max is a steady hand that will continue to work to improve his craft each day. He will not sit back and pat himself on the back for accomplishments. He knows he will need to work at the NFL level to stay there. The JETS are getting a TEAM first guy, a quality teammate, and a great community partner. We are super excited for Max!!”
Mitchell arrived at Cajun Field with no real expectations for playing time as a freshman, but he ended up appearing in all 14 games as a backup. Leaving high school he sat at around 245lbs, guard Ken Marks said “Max was always like this clumsy guy — goofy-looking guy — but when he got in and coach Sale drilled him and we got into fall camp, we were like, ‘Oh, he can actually play.’ Play he did, 365/379 of his snaps came at left tackle, although he did play a single rep at guard and spent 13 snaps as an inline blocking tight end.
Louisiana’s knowledge of Neville High School played a key role in recruiting Mitchell in the first place. It may not be known around the country, but Neville’s football program is one of the most renowned in Louisiana and head coach Billy Napier spoke about that being a reason why the Rajun-Cajuns were so confident in starting Mitchell early:
“The program that he came from, not only was he well coached but the strength and conditioning program at that school, that’s a winning program and they do it the right way,” Napier said.
“They’ve got a great offseason program, we’ve even brought one of their original strength coaches in to meet with coach (Mark) Hocke and our staff. He’d worked with the Atlanta Falcons, the Oakland Raiders, not to mention the fact that Mickey McCarty is kind of an offensive line type guy, he was ahead of the curve.”1
2019 gave Mitchell his first chance to start division one football and he grabbed it with both hands. He started all 14 games with seven coming on the left side of the line (LT) and seven coming on the right side (RT). He even filled in at LG when Ken Marks went down. That Louisiana offensive line was heralded across the country. It ranked 5th nationally in average sacks allowed per game (1.07) and 7th nationally in rushing yards (3,604).
It was only after his freshman year that Mitchell started to realize that a life in the NFL was within his reach and it took the encouragement of Rob Sale. Mitchell recently spoke about that realization. It’s not uncommon for 2* prospects who held only a single division one scholarship offer to not see that big picture straight away.
“Took a big step after freshman year and started having the picture down the road that I could definitely do this,” Mitchell said. “Senior year it kind of became a reality. Agents started calling you, you started reading about yourself a little bit.”
When Mitchell came to Louisiana the expectation was that he was going to play at left tackle, that’s where he played in high school and that’s where he felt comfortable. But midway through that 2019 season Robert Hunt, the starting right tackle went down with an injury and Rob Sale moved Mitchell over…then he kept him there:
“They just stuck me there after Robert’s injury last year,” Mitchell said. “It didn’t feel very natural at first, but coach Sale after a few reps here and there said, ‘You look more natural on the right side. We’re going to keep you there. I think you look great there.’
“I’ve just adjusted over time to it.”
Over the off-season between the 2019-2020 seasons, Mitchell worked hard at his new position and he worked harder at putting some mass on. Robert Hunt was gone (drafted by the Miami Dolphins) and Mitchell was the starting right tackle. During the pre-draft process, Mitchell weighed in around 10-15lbs heavier than his playing weight of around 290-295lbs, but that was mass added due to a strength program that we’ll get into a little later.
“I think my pass game was improved,” he said. “I still have a lot to work on there. I feel like I got stronger in the spring. I feel like my run game improved. My freshman year, I was kind of like a wet noodle out there, but I’ve managed to get stronger and bigger and a little more mass on me.”
In the COVID shortened 2020 season he made 10 starts, with 8 coming on the right side and 2 coming on the left. Before the season had even begun, head coach Billy Napier exclaimed “Max Mitchell is primed to have a breakout year,” and he wasn’t wrong. Again the Louisiana offensive line demonstrated consistent and outstanding play allowing just 0.82 sacks per game (7th nationally). Mitchell earned Second Team All-Sun Belt Conference honors for his performance and was starting to gain traction in the draft community.
That 2020 season was a tough one for many reasons, but Louisiana had to play that season on the back of a tragedy. During an August team practice assistant offensive line coach D.J Looney suffered a fatal heart attack, at just 31 years of age it shocked everyone around the program, it shocked everyone around college football. Max and the rest of the team had to lean on one another to move forward
“That was a tough part of this year – probably one of the toughest,” Mitchell said. “We’re so close on the O-line. We have a lot of returners. We spend a lot of time with him. Leaning on each other has helped a lot. We’re using him for motivation – all the things he (Looney) taught us, we’re just carrying it forward.”
In 2021 Mitchell found a permanent home on the right side of the line and appeared in all 14 games, but he had to make some adjustments. Rob Sale who had been there since his freshman campaign left the program to take on the role of offensive line coach wtih the New York Giants. In came two new offensive line coaches in Jeff Norrid and Darnell Stapleton. Instead of seeing the difficulties and pitfalls of losing his mentor and coach, Michell saw it as an opportunity for a fresh perspective.
“It’s very different,” Mitchell said. “With coach Sale leaving, he’s been there since my freshman year. He recruited me. Him being from Monroe, we had a little bond there.
“I saw it as an opportunity to get a different coaches point of view on things. I’m just trying to embrace whatever they bring to the table. I think we’ve enjoyed it, just getting a different point of view.”
His play over his final year earned him third-team Associated Press All-American honors along with a first-team all-conference selection. He was also graded as the best tackle in college football by PFF who credited him with allowing just 13 pressures over 430 pass-blocking snaps.
Senior Ken Marks described Mitchell as “an animal. He’s a beast – weight room, football knowledge, everything.” before that 2021 season, and it wasn’t just his play on the field, but his leadership as well.
“He’s become a more confident guy,” running back Chris Smith said. “This past summer, he stepped up more as a leader. He’s helping lead the offensive line. He’s helping team with more leadership too. We’ve had this leadership group and he’ll step up and he’ll speak. He tells me to pick up and get things going. He’s become more confident, more of a team leader. I’m really proud of him. I hope he just keeps it up.”
Following the 2021 season Max Mitchell was invited down to Mobile Alabama to appear in the Senior Bowl, a game coached by the New York Jets and Detroit Lions. It gave the Jets an opportunity to get to know Mitchell on a deeper level and understand his game, but it also gave Mitchell an opportunity to test himself against some of the best prospects in the nation.
“It was awesome to be able to go out there and get that early sense of what the next level might be like, just facing the best of the best in the country,” Mitchell said. “It definitely boosted my confidence, showed me what I needed to work on a little bit more and gave me some early insight on what to look for.”2
In the run-up to the draft, Mitchell was working with Duke Manyweather’s Sports Academy, in Frisco, Texas - A well-renowned training program for an offensive lineman. Mekhi Becton has been working with Duke this off-season after staying in Texas to be at the birth of his first child.
Billy Napier always knew that Mitchell would be playing at the next level. He said as much before the 2021 season even kicked off3
“Max has played a lot of football,” he said. “He’s worked hard in the weight room, he’s worked hard at nutrition. He’s got some position flexibility. He’s played guard and both tackles for us. To have the intelligence to do that and certainly the unselfish approach and character to do that is impressive.
“His play speaks for itself. He’ll play at the next level.”
Over the course of his four-year career in Louisiana, Mitchell allowed just 5 sacks over 1,280 pass-blocking snaps. His run-blocking grade was 80+ in his last three years culminating in a grade of 95.0 in his final year.
I watched 5 complete games for Max and I came away with 3 clips. The tape isn't perfect, he can sometimes play over his pads and he needs to be a touch more patient instead of lurching into blocks. But the reason I came away with just 3 clips is that largely he gets the job done. There aren't a lot of highlight reel pancake blocks, there's just a ton of really solid and dependable offensive line play, not flashy but effective.
Length + Strength
This first one comes from the Texas game. Max's arm length only came in at the 46th percentile in combine testing but it flashed consistently on tape. He's able to get his punch in quickly and keep players in front of him with his arms and hand fighting. The QB ends up getting sacked here but it's through no fault of Mitchell's who stands his rusher up and doesn't give an inch.
I don't remember watching Mitchell and being wowed at the senior bowl, and I do remember him getting beat badly by Jermaine Johnson, but everyone for beat by Jermaine Johnson. This rep stud out though as it showcases one of his best assets and that's his quick feet and explosion out of his stance. He slides and engages quickly, riding his rusher up field. His quickness and agility are ideal for zone blocking schemes and it's likely one of the reasons the Jets were so interested.
There's a reason that Mitchell was graded so highly in the run game, but again there is nothing flashy about his play. He just shows a really clear understanding of blocking technique and leverage. Here is a play where his quickness paired with his body control allows him to seal a running lane for his RB who follows him for a good gain. Just solid offensive line play.