With Tom Brady quarterbacking the Patriots for over 15 years, it may seem to the naked eye that the Patriots' offense is always clicking.
And over the last seven years or so, that has been the case. From players like Wes Welker to Randy Moss, to Rob Gronkowski to Julian Edelman, the Patriots racked up plenty of yards through the air. But for as good as Bill Belichick has been in building an offense around Brady, he hasn't been able to do it by drafting wide receivers.
Yes, give the Patriots credit for drafting Edelman in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft, but let's not forget Edelman was a quarterback at Kent State prior to the NFL.
When it comes to drafting legitimate wide receivers out of college, the Patriots nailed two way back in 2002 with Deion Branch in the second round and David Givens in the seventh round.
After that? Crickets, and some notable busts. Bethel Johnson (2nd, 2002), Chad Jackson (2nd, 2006), Taylor Price (3rd, 2010), Aaron Dobson (2nd, 2013), and Josh Boyce (4th, 2013), among other no-names have come and gone in New England.
But one looks to have finally bucked the trend.
The Patriots drafted 5-foot-11, 200-pound Malcolm Mitchell out of Georgia in the fourth round of this year's NFL Draft. Mitchell turned some heads early in camp and had a team-high four catches in the first preseason game before an ugly dislocated elbow injury forced him out before halftime and out of action entirely until the regular season opener.
A catch or two here or there proved that Mitchell was at least on the team's radar through the first half of the season, but it wasn't until a big showing in San Francisco when Mitchell really showed what he was capable of. Four catches for 98 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers was followed up by five catches for 42 yards and two touchdowns against the Jets.
A week later against the Rams, Mitchell clearly had Brady's trust as the quarterback threw his way 10 times, connecting on eight for 82 yards. Mitchell caught his fourth touchdown of the season against the Ravens the following week.
The Patriots lost both Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola during the season. Amendola should return for the playoffs, but Gronkowski is done. Those injuries have allowed Mitchell a bigger opportunity late in the season, one he has taken advantage of.
"He’s done a great job for us," Brady said of Mitchell back on Dec. 12. "It says a lot for a rookie to be playing his best in December. It speaks to what he’s all about, his mindset, his character, his determination. He’s worked his butt off since he got here and he’s put himself in a great position."
The saying goes: "Success is when opportunity meets preparation," and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels praised Mitchell's preparation and work ethic back in late November, something that showed on the practice field.
"We always say practice execution becomes game reality, and I think that Malcolm [Mitchell] has really taken advantage of his opportunities to work in practice, to make plays in practice, and I think some of those things are definitely transferring to the game," McDaniels said.
The Patriots hope that's one trend that continues in Mitchell's first career playoff game Saturday night against the Texans.