Bobby Mitchell – Wide Receiver/Halfback
For NFL teams, having Pro Football Hall of Famers are like diamonds – precious but rare. If a club has one Hall of Famer on its roster, then it considers itself extremely lucky. Two is a gift. And to have two Hall of Famers at the same position? That's just off the charts. But that's exactly what the Browns enjoyed at one time. For four seasons, from 1958-61, they had a pair of Hall of Fame running backs in halfback Bobby Mitchell and fullback Jim Brown. They are two of the four running backs the Browns have in the Hall of Fame, joining Marion Motley and Leroy Kelly.
The Browns got the steal of the 1958 NFL Draft when they selected Mitchell in the eighth round. He was a tremendous sprinter, and there was some fear by teams that he would forego football and pursue track in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. However, he stayed in football. Knowing that Brown was the hub of the offense, Mitchell had no problem playing a complementary role. With Brown the power runner, going between the tackles, the elusive Mitchell worked the outside as both a runner and pass receiver.
As a rookie, Mitchell was second on the Browns to Brown in rushing with 500 yards, averaging a team-high 6.3 yards a carry. He was even better in 1959, as he upped his rushing yards total to 743 and again led the team with a 5.7 average while recording five TDs. As a receiver, he was second in catches with 35, good for a team-best four scores. He had five rushing TDs again in 1960 to go along with 506 yards, and led the Browns in both receptions (45) and scoring catches (six). In 1961, in what would turn out to be his last season as a Brown, he rushed for five scores for a third straight time, and 548 yards. He also caught 32 passes for three TDs. But Mitchell's rushing and receiving were not his only contributions to the Browns, as he was one of the best returners in club history, too. He had both a kickoff and punt return for a TD as a rookie, and returned a punt for a score the following year. He added a kickoff return for a TD in 1960, and had two scores – one each on a punt and kickoff – in 1961.
When it was all said and done with the Browns, Mitchell had rushed for 3,204 career yards, eighth-best in team history, averaged a team-best 5.4 yards a carry and had 16 TDs, and had 16 more scores on 128 receptions. He added six returns for TDs – three each on punts and kickoffs. But Browns head coach Paul Brown wanted a bigger runner to pair with Jim Brown to have more of a power backfield, thus he traded with the Washington Redskins for the rights to the No. 1 overall pick in the 1962 NFL Draft, Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis. The price was steep, for the Browns had to give up Mitchell. The Redskins switched him to wide receiver and, as the go-to man on the offense, he starred over the next seven seasons, finishing his 11-yard NFL career with 521 receptions for 65 TDs overall.
– Steve King