Earning Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers coaching staff’s trust isn’t something that’s done easily. We’ve seen this play out throughout Shanahan’s tenure in San Francisco. But, unfortunately, rookie running back Elijah Mitchell’s preseason was cut short as he missed multiple weeks with a hip injury.
We didn’t get a chance to see Mitchell much during training camp. When we did, it was evident he could help the 49ers on offense, but more so in a receiving role out of the backfield. Mitchell didn’t receive one rep with the first team. It was always Raheem Mostert and Trey Sermon.
From the time Mitchell recovered from his hip injury to Week 1, he must’ve flipped a switch. Once Mostert went down after the first couple of series in Detriot, Mitchell, not Sermon, filled in for Mostert. Mitchell hasn’t looked back since.
On Monday, Shanahan said, “I’m real happy with how Elijah is doing.” When asked if there was something about Mitchell, whether it was an intangible or his maturity level, or him just being a good player, here’s what Shanahan said:
“I think that all goes together. I think he is a very talented guy but to make it in this league, especially as a rookie and the situations he’s been in, you can’t just be talented with your physical skills. You’ve got to be made with the right stuff too. He is an extreme pro in terms of, he doesn’t say a lot, but he takes coaching. Bobby [running backs coach Robert Turner Jr.] coaches those guys very hard. He never takes it personally. He always is trying to get better. He’s extremely tough. He’s had to play through some injuries here since he’s been going and so far, he’s showed he’s got what it takes to make it in this league.”
It always feels like Shanahan is taking a subtle shot at another player, but I don’t believe that to be the case above. This is an isolated situation for Mitchell.
Remember in 2019 when we were begging the team to feed Mostert the ball more than ten times a game? Mitchell has carries of 19, 17, 9, 18, and 18 this season. If that doesn’t tell you Kyle believes in the rookie, then nothing will.
Mitchell has impressed with his speed, toughness, and running style. But, perhaps the most telling stat from him is that he leads all running backs in yards after contact. Mitchell is averaging 4.32 yards per carry after contact, which is incredible.
Mitchell was the only running back in the NFL to exceed 100 yards in Week 8. Najee Harris, selected in the first round, was closest to Mitchell’s 137 rushing yards with 91.
We may have understated what the loss of Mostert meant to the 49ers' offense. So, let’s give Mitchell his credit. You can’t fake 5.3 yards per carry in the NFL when you’re getting his volume.