In March, however, Mitchell began generating a buzz among pro scouts. And in the last weekend of April, Mitchell is likely to hear his name announced at the NFL Draft.
"It's exciting, to say the least," Mitchell told Scout.com on Friday. "Especially when me and my agent (Brian Hamilton) first got hooked up, it was tough because I was a guy who didn't get any all-star invites, didn't get a Combine invite. But the last three weeks, his phone has been blowing up, so my phone has been blowing up with him telling me all the good news. It's really exciting, all these teams showing interest."
The big, intelligent safety prospect will be flying to Cleveland to meet with the team on Wednesday. It is part of a busy week of four visits in four days for Mitchell.
"You hope for the best and expect the worst. I'm somewhere in between," he said as the draft nears.
Mitchell arrived at Ohio as a raw 5-foot-11, 188-pound freshman. Four years later (he didn't redshirt), Mitchell is a smart and polished 6-foot, 221-pound rising prospect. He gives a lot of credit to defensive coordinator/safeties coach Jimmy Burrow, who was an eighth-round draft pick by the Packers in 1976.
"To be honest, I think the strength of my game comes from (Burrow)," he said. "My football intelligence is extremely high, and that comes from him telling me since my freshman year how much film you have to watch, how many times you have to review the scouting report. I don't think there's another player on the field who's as mentally prepared as I am. I know it sounds cliché, but I know plays that they're running before the offensive coordinator does. As soon as he calls it and they run out the formation, I know exactly what it is just based on what I've seen after watching hours and hours of film."
Mitchell likened studying film to his political science courses. On some quizzes, the students are allowed to use a "cheat sheet."
"If you didn't take advantage of the cheat sheet, that's your fault if you don't do good on the test," he said. "Watching film is like filling out that cheat sheet. You can get all of your little hints and tips, so that way, when the test comes, you're ready for it."
It didn't take long for Mitchell to be ready at Ohio. He moved into the starting lineup about one-third the way through his sophomore season. He finished his career with seven interceptions, including two against Northwestern in 2008.
"He's really become a kind of a coach-on-the-field-type player over the last four years," Burrow said. "He really understands the game, studies the game. He watched more film this year than anyone that I've had in many, many years. I'm not sure I've ever had anybody watch as much, study as much, as he did. He loves the game. This is all he's ever wanted to play is professional football, so he's put a lot of time in it."
The buzz surrounding Mitchell began at Ohio's pro day on March 11, when he ran a pair of 40-yard dashes in less than 4.5 seconds, with a 37.5-inch vertical jump and 21 reps on the 225-pound bench press. That's tremendous athleticism for a safety with Mitchell's size. Only Missouri's William Moore, the top-ranked safety prospect, and Oklahoma's Nic Harris, who might be moved to linebacker because of concerns about his athletic ability, are bigger in this class of safeties.
With that size comes strong tackling skills.
"The word that comes to mind is ‘physical,'" Burrow said.
Mitchell is big enough to mix it up in the box, which could make him an intriguing prospect for the Browns, who lost Sean Jones to Philadelphia during free agency. Plus, he can play special teams; Burrow said Ohio State's punt-return unit "couldn't handle" Mitchell during their 2008 matchup.
The obvious concern about Mitchell is the competition. While the Mid-American Conference has produced several NFL stars — Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison come to mind — it's a notch below the power conferences like the Big Ten and SEC.
But Burrow said Mitchell was at his best during Ohio's games this past season against Ohio State and Northwestern. Mitchell also had a strong performance against Virginia Tech in 2007.
"Right now, I feel like I'm ready for the next level," Mitchell said, "and I'm going to make an impact immediately on some team's special teams and I'd like to work my way into the lineup."
And what about being a forgotten man in the eyes of scouts a couple month ago?
"Sometimes, guys fly under the radar," Mitchell said. "I don't know whose fault that is, but I think they know me now, and that's what's important."