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Rookie TE James Mitchell feels ready for an increased role

The Detroit Lions must now fill the void created by trading tight end T.J. Hockenson to the Minnesota Vikings.

While Brock Wright is expected to step into a starting role, the playing time of rookie fifth-round pick James Mitchell is expected to increase significantly as well.

Mitchell hasn't played more than six snaps in a game, and just 21 for the season as he's continued to rehab and strengthen a torn ACL suffered in college last season. But Mitchell says the knee is feeling good and he's ready for an increased role.

"I do feel ready," Mitchell said Wednesday. "I think they've done a good job preparing me. I haven't got over six snaps in a game, but I've been repping a lot in practice and just building that trust and building that confidence in myself. I think I'm ready."

Mitchell was a three-year starter at Virginia Tech and was a big playmaker for the Hokies. He averaged 17.2 and 16.7 yards per reception, respectively, his sophomore and junior seasons. He suffered a torn ACL the second game of his senior season last year. He finished his career with 52 catches for 838 yards and seven touchdowns.

Mitchell's draft stock tumbled a bit because of the knee injury, and the Lions believe they got a bigger playmaker than his fifth-round draft status would indicate.

"Mitchell every week has gotten a little bit better," head coach Dan Campbell said this week. "He hasn't gotten a heavy load, but this will be – he's going to get more on his plate now, and we think he'll be ready. We think he's going to be ready for that. He works hard, he's smart."

Mitchell's route running, size (6-4, 249), run-after-catch ability and blocking were all things that attracted the Lions to him in the draft.

Mitchell was brought along slowly as he rehabbed his knee. He didn't dress for the first three weeks of the season, but as the knee has steadily gotten stronger, his workload has increased.

"I think he's coming in as more of a pass catcher for sure," quarterback Jared Goff said this week of Mitchell. "He did a little bit of that in college and has that in his DNA, and so has done a good job with that developing that, and I've seen it (Wednesday), and even on scout team, we kind of saw it develop as this season has gone on, and again, a guy that I've slowly started to become very trustworthy with, and it's really all that matter when these guys are running routes and catching passes for us."

View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Thursday, November 3, 2022.

Hockenson was a big part of the Lions' offense, so players like Mitchell and Wright are going to have to step up and pick up the load these last 10 games.

"I feel really good," Mitchell said. "Physically, they were taking their time with me, but after that fourth week, I really started seeing a change in my body physically with the knee. I felt better. I felt fresher. I felt more explosive.

"I'm definitely ready for the next step. Obviously came in a way you don't necessarily want. That's how it goes. They're expecting me to take more responsibility. I have to be ready for that."

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