FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots could be receiving an offensive boost in the form of Malcolm Mitchell as early as Sunday afternoon.
Mitchell returned to Patriots practice Wednesday and now can be activated as the team’s second player “designated for return” from injured reserve at any time. The wide receiver must be activated within 21 days or else his season officially is over. Linebacker Shea McClellin, the Patriots’ first player tagged as “designated to return,” suffered an injury setback and wasn’t activated within 21 days.
Patriots defensive captain Devin McCourty was impressed with Mitchell in practice Wednesday.
“It’s good to see him to be able to be back out there running around with his teammates,” McCourty said. “He’s said for weeks that he hopes he gets his shot to come back out there and practice. He’s got the fresh legs. He was out there moving today. I’m happy for him.”
The Patriots could use another wide receiver familiar with the offensive playbook. Brandin Cooks will be ahead of Mitchell on the depth chart, and Danny Amendola will remain the Patriots’ slot receiver, but Kenny Britt only has played 11 snaps since being signed as a free agent. Chris Hogan is still dealing with a shoulder injury suffered in Week 8, and Phillip Dorsett, who came over from the Indianapolis Colts right before the season, clearly has not earned the trust of quarterback Tom Brady.
Dorsett ranks 140th out of 141 wide receivers who have run at least 100 routes this season in targets per passing snap. He’s run 180 routes and been targeted just 12 times for a 6.67 target percentage. Mitchell had a 14.6 target percentage as a rookie in 2016.
Mitchell caught 32 passes for 401 yards with four touchdowns last season and added another seven receptions for 75 yards in the Super Bowl. He would give the Patriots another outside receiving threat for their playoff run, which starts in just over two weeks because they earned a first-round bye.
The Patriots can clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a win over the New York Jets. The Patriots could choose to activate Mitchell by Sunday to get his feet under him in a regular season game before the playoffs begin.
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