Who is the best player to wear number 49 for the Cleveland Browns?
The countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 49 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 49: Bobby Mitchell.
Bobby Mitchell was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the seventh round of the 1958 NFL draft out of the University of Illinois. Mitchell was a duel-sport star for the Fighting Illini, excelling at both football and track. Coming out of college, Mitchell was not sure if he was going to play football or pursue representing the United States in the 1960 Summer Olympics.
With a previous knee injury in college and Mitchell’s Olympic aspirations being known, many teams passed on the speedy halfback. Paul Brown decided to take a flier on Mitchell and convinced him to join the Browns instead of training for possible Olympic glory. It was a move that paid off for both the Browns and Mitchell.
When Mitchell arrived in Cleveland, Jim Brown was entering his second season in a Browns uniform. The Browns ran their offense through the powerful and dynamic fullback, and the halfback was more of an afterthought in the running game. Mitchell’s playmaking ability gave the Browns a one-two punch that no one else in the league had at the time.
As a rookie, Mitchell split time in the backfield with Lew Carpenter. He caught 16 balls for three touchdowns and carried the ball 80 times for 500 yards and an additional touchdown. Considering everything Brown was already doing on the ground, anything Mitchell could add was just a bonus.
However, Mitchell’s contribution to the Browns’ success was not limited to what he could do on offense. In addition to his halfback duties, Mitchell was one of the best kickoff and punt returners in the NFL. As a rookie, Mitchell returned both a punt and kickoff for a touchdown. This is a theme that would continue for his time in Cleveland.
In his second season, Mitchell took over as the full-time starting halfback. He scored ten total touchdowns in 1959, with four receiving, five rushing, and one by way of a punt return. He also compiled his best rushing statistics as a running back in 1959 putting up 743 yards on 131 carries, including a league-high 90-yard scamper.
His third season was his best as a member of the Cleveland Browns. Mitchell scored six receiving touchdowns, five rushing touchdowns, and a kickoff return for an additional score. Mitchell was recognized for his outstanding playmaking ability and nominated for his first Pro Bowl in 1960.
1961 would end up being Mitchell’s last in a Browns uniform. Although he proved to be just as valuable to the team, once again scoring 10 total touchdowns, owner Art Modell opted to trade Mitchell following the season. Cleveland traded Mitchell and their first-round pick of the 1962 draft, Leroy Jackson to Washington in exchange for the first-overall pick of the 1962 draft, Ernie Davis.
Mitchell would switch positions and go on to be one of the most successful flankers in the NFL with Washington. He played seven seasons in Washington, scoring 53 total touchdowns with 49 of those coming through the air. Mitchell was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983.
Although his time in Cleveland only lasted four seasons, Bobby Mitchell is without a doubt the best player to wear number 49 for the Cleveland Browns.