Despite having its worst season in 30 years, the Northwestern Wildcats still garnered a productive 2023 NFL Draft class — the busiest since 1985.
The Cleveland Browns added to the Wildcat pipeline, snagging cornerback Cameron Mitchell with the 142nd pick in the fifth round. Mitchell was one of four Cats' selections: Peter Skoronski, Adetomiwa Adebawore, and Evan Hull.
Mitchell will join his friend and former teammate, Greg Newsome II, in Cleveland, along with former Wildcat standout Anthony Walker Jr. Both have played critical roles in NU’s success in recent seasons and are projected starters for the Browns.
Mitchell was one of the lone bright spots on a Northwestern squad that spent the 2022 season looking for one. Declaring for the draft after four seasons of donning the purple and white, Mitchell still made his mark as Northwestern’s top corner throughout his last season.
While Mitchell was sometimes inconsistent in 2022, he thrived against NFL-bound receivers such as Purdue’s Charlie Jones and Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. His best game of the year came in Dublin during Northwestern’s lone win over Nebraska, which earned him a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week nod after he recorded two pass breakups and an interception.
In an AFC North that features Joe Burrow and Lamar Jackson, defensive efficiency is paramount for on-field success. While the Browns ranked 26th in defensive estimated points added (EPA), they were 13th in EPA per dropback. The secondary, featuring Denzel Ward, wasn’t the root of their problems. So, what difference will Mitchell make?
He’ll bring lots of physicality as a solid scheme fit in new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s unit. Although the former Eagles defensive guru doesn’t blitz aggressively, he uses creative stunts on the defensive line to affect the quarterback and tends to run with man coverage in the back end, employing different varieties of Cover One looks in the middle of the field. That can cater to Mitchell’s strengths as a press corner who excels at mirroring his opponent in man-to-man coverage.
Additionally, with Ward and Newsome already in the fold along with Martin Emerson, Mitchell could earn reps working in the slot. Not only does that give him a height advantage as a 6-foot cornerback working against receivers who are typically smaller, it also gives Schwartz some freedom to let Mitchell crowd the box. In the AFC North, guarding slot receivers will be crucial with the likes of Tyler Boyd, Diontae Johnson and Zay Flowers in the division, not to mention Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, George Pickens, Rashod Bateman and Odell Beckham Jr., who spend most of their time on the outside.
Browns general manager Andrew Berry recognized that the Northwestern defensive back could offer that positional flexibility.
“We also liked his versatility to play inside and outside [at corner],” Browns’ general manager Andrew Berry told reporters. “We have a number of guys in our group who we cross-train in that regard just because it gives us more flexibility in our sub-packages, and we feel, you know, Cam fills that role as well.”
For a corner, he was also a solid run defender at NU, and he could help buoy a Cleveland run defense that surrendered the eighth-most rushing yards per game in the NFL last year. The Browns require their defensive backs to tackle well, and the release of safety John Johnson III was in part due to his struggles as a tackler.
With obstacles to playing time ahead of him in the cornerback room, Mitchell could also bring some depth on special teams, as Berry noted. He played almost 400 snaps on special teams with the ‘Cats, so Mitchell’s game should translate well to the next level. He could play a major factor in kick coverage and the return game.
At the present time, Mitchell will have to work his way up the depth chart before finding a permanent role as a starting corner. The Browns already have Ward, who has remained productive during his years in the NFL. Barring an injury or major shake-up in the secondary, most of Mitchell’s snaps during his rookie season may come on special teams. For now, Mitchell makes sense as a developmental corner who will slot fourth or fifth on the depth chart.
Nonetheless, the Browns kept their unofficial Wildcat-drafting tradition alive for at least another season, as Mitchell became the latest NU alumni to head up the banks of Lake Erie.