There were many players from the 2014 team who fans felt would be sorely missed in 2015. However, the talk during the off-season primarily centered around the offensive skill positions and Shaq Mason. Lost was the impact of Quayshawn Nealy, the Takeaway Titan of 2014 and the leader of the defense. The Jackets were left without an experienced LB on the team who possessed Nealy's skill set, and would suffer as a result. One Freshman stepped forward as someone who could fill Nealy's role in the future: Brant Mitchell.
As a Recruit
Mitchell's recruitment was a far cry from that of Anree Saint-Amour. While the latter was a tough recruiting battle filled with drama, Mitchell's recruitment was quiet and uneventful. After being offered following 2014's signing day, Mitchell visited Tech and committed in July of 2014 over a handful of other power 5 offers. Most notable among them were Tennessee, Mississippi State, Duke, and Louisville. Mitchell never wavered from his commitment and signed with the Jackets in February of 2015.
Mitchell was a 2-time Mr. Football Award winner in the state of Tennessee, winning the award both his junior and senior years. Playing in Class A football in Knoxville, TN, Mitchell was a bit underrated by other programs, but Georgia Tech saw something in the prospect and decided to pursue him.
Season and Stats
Mitchell saw extensive action throughout the season, playing in every game. His stats steadily increased as the season wore on, and he began to take more and more snaps away from teammate Tyler Marcordes. By the end of the year, Mitchell had entrenched himself as a starter in 4-3 sets, while splitting snaps nearly evenly with Marcordes in 4-2-5 sets. He was able to accrue the following stats:
Despite his limited snaps early in the season, and split snaps later, Mitchell was able to amass 36 tackles, good for 9th on the team. Every player ahead of him was a full time starter for the entire season. His numbers from the MLB position speak to his ability to be a run enforcer, and help Georgia Tech deal with its deficiencies along the defensive line.
In coverage, Mitchell made splash plays. His most memorable came against Virginia Tech, where a pick-6 gave Georgia Tech back the lead and the momentum before the offense fumbled it all away. Perhaps his more impressive play in coverage came against Clemson, where he was able to read the eyes of Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson, step into the throwing lane, and make the interception. It was, however, a bit of boom or bust for Mitchell when dropping into coverage. While he did get his two picks, he didn't have any passes defensed on the year.
Mitchell is the type of player that thrives inside the box, taking on ball-carriers and offensive linemen alike. Physically, he is better built for this role than PJ Davis or Tyler Marcordes, and it showed in his ability to take on and shed blocks. Watching some of Mitchell's games from this year, it was apparent just how physical and nasty his play style is. He regularly fired into the line of scrimmage and would plug his gap without being moved. With Georgia Tech's lack of a true Nose Tackle to eat blocks and keep the LBs clean, this was perhaps the trait that made him most successful. He not only had the size and strength to attack blocks, but also the skill to shed them and make the tackle for minimal gain.
Against Virginia Tech, on a play just before his pick-6, Mitchell made perhaps a more impressive play. He fired straight into his gap, attacked the block of one of VT's OL, and then blew up the ball carrier for a loss of 1. In my notes from re-watching, I wrote "Now THAT is how you play LB." Against Florida State, he attacked an OT in open space and was able to pancake him. Dalvin Cook ran right by Mitchell a split second later, but we'll work on that.
As a pass rusher, Mitchell is a bit out of his element. He only logged 1 sack over the course of the season, and wasn't usually in the quarterback's face when called upon to blitz. His quickness off the line isn't elite, and his pass rush moves when rushing from the edge aren't quite developed yet. He'll need to work on his burst and technique if he wants to viably be used as a blitzer. If he can't, it could limit his play time on 3rd down.
Mitchell's future role in the Georgia Tech defense will likely hinge on his ability in coverage. Linebackers who excel against the run but lack coverage skills are known as "2 down backers" due to their inability to drop into coverage during obvious passing situations. If Mitchell wants to be great, he'll need to show that he can be a "3 down guy" at the Power 5 level.
Mitchell has shown considerable zone coverage instincts, snagging 2 interceptions during the season, which tied for first on the team. In both cases, he showed an ability to read the quarterback and break on the ball from his zone. He won't often be asked to execute man coverage schemes, so his propensity for zone schemes will be a boon for Georgia Tech. The biggest question mark going forward will be quickness and speed. He can see the ball and know where to go, but will he be able to get to the point of attack in time to defend the pass? This will be a major point of emphasis in his off-season training.
Brant Mitchell has an impressively bright future as the starting MLB for the Jackets. At his floor, he will be a 2-down run enforcer who doesn't add much in terms of pass defense, but at his ceiling he will play all 3 downs and vie for All-ACC honors perennially. Either way, Mitchell provides a skill set that the Georgia Tech defense has sorely missed, and his contributions will allow the Jackets to play on another level.