The starting Strong Safety (SS) for the Oakland Raiders has been a hotbed for IDP talent and value the past few years. It doesn't seem to matter who mans the spot, but whoever does has a great chance to be a top-10 DB and is almost a lock to be a top-20 DB in IDP circles.
Related: IDP Sleepers 2011
Over the last three seasons, take a look at the numbers put up by the Oakland SS:
- 2010- Tyvon Branch- 104 total tackles (81 solo)- 5th amongst DBs in pts scored, 10th in ppg
- 2009- Tyvon Branch- 124 total tackles (98 solo)- 2nd amongst DBs in pts scored, 5th in ppg
- 2008- Gibril Wilson- 129 total tackles (96 solo)- 1st amongst DBs in pts scored, 1st in ppg
Now, Wilson had proven to be a more then serviceable player for the Giants before his time in Oakland. He averaged 101 tackles per season while in New York. However, his season starting at SS in Oakland saw an increase of almost 28% in his tackle output! As for Branch, he was a relative unknown prior to assuming the starting SS job in 2009. He did not start a game as a rookie and totaled only 10 tackles in 8 games. Yet, as soon as he started at SS for Oakland after his one year apprenticeship, he tallied almost identical tackle numbers when compared to Wilson's 2008 season.
The point of all of this? Well, if you have read my IDP DB Rankings for the upcoming season, I currently list Tyvon Branch as the #4 overall DB. He is a relative lock for close to 100 tackles and a handful of performance plays. However, there is one little thing that might hold him back: FS Michael Huff.
You see, Huff is a free agent and if the new CBA allows 4th and 5th year players to be unrestricted free agents, then there is a good chance that Huff will leave Oakland this off-season. If that were to happen, there are already rumors circulating that Tyvon Branch would be moved to free safety and Mike Mitchell would then be plugged in at strong safety. If this happens, Branch's value will fall and Mitchell's value will skyrocket!
Mitchell had a similar rookie year to Branch. He tallied only 11 tackles and did not start a game. This was to be expected, since many analysts believed that Al Davis and Co. reached for Mitchell when they took him in the 2nd round of the 2009 Draft. However, as a third safety last season, Mitchell showed glimpses of promise as he tallied 51 tackles (41 solo) while only playing as a 3rd safety for Oakland.
Mitchell is a great hitter and has more size then Branch. Mitchell is 6'1" 220lbs to Branch's 6'0" 200lbs. Mitchell has great size and tackling prowess to act as the "in-the-box" safety, while allowing Branch to use his speed and range to patrol the middle of the field as Oakland's FS.
Mitchell was known to be a big hitter coming out of college and has not disappointed. He has also done a decent job defending tight ends recently and can cover running backs out of the backfield as well. Want proof? See the clip below showing his closing on Seahawks RB Justin Forsett:
Mitchell started three games last season for the Raiders. He did not fair very well in his first start (only 3 fantasy points), but in his final two starts he tallied 12 fantasy points in both games....not bad for the up-and-down DB position of fantasy football. Not to mention, in those last two starts, he was comparable to Branch: Mitchell tallied 24 points in his two later starts (week 7 and 16) while Branch totaled 23 points in those two games.
Mitchell also seems to be developing a decent knack for finding his way into the backfield and being able to fill a gap......two things that will fit the SS role in Oakland very well. Take a peek at the clip below to see him fill the gap, get right into the backfield and then benefit by recovering a loose fumble at the goal-line:
Mitchell is now heading into his third season and he seems primed and ready for more playing time. Given how highly he was drafted, there is a good chance that Oakland will give him that chance if Michael Huff proves too costly to keep around. If so, the only option is to slide Mitchell in at SS and move Branch to FS. If that happens, expect Mitchell to come close to duplicating Branch's and Wilson's previous production. He will likely jump to a top-10 DB. At the very worst, he will likely become a top-25 DB. After all, if Stuart Schweigert can finish 14th and 16th in points scored and 20th and 24th in ppg as the Oakland SS in 2005 and 2006, then Mitchell should have no problem easily being a top-25 DB with top-10 upside if he grabs the SS job.
Keep a close eye on him this off-season and if Huff leaves Oakland during free agency, then get ready to grab Mitchell and watch him help lead your IDP unit with linebacker-like stats from the DB position.