Early in the season, I was critical of running back Elijah Mitchell’s vision, pointing out certain plays where he missed a running lane or potentially left extra yards on the field.
As the season has progressed, I am in awe of the development of Mitchell into a star running back in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
The sixth-round rookie just capped off a 133-yard rushing performance on 27 carries while adding 35 yards receiving on five catches. He even threw a spectacular lead block on a Deebo Samuel rushing attempt.
In their win against the Rams, Mitchell ran for 91 yards on 27 carries. On the road in Chicago, Mitchell had one of his best performances, adding 137 yards on 18 carries, ripping off explosive run after explosive run.
I thought Raheem Mostert was perfect in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, but Elijah Mitchell might be even more special. The top-end speed might not be there, but Mitchell’s become increasingly more decisive and turned into a North-South runner — which is exactly what this outside-zone scheme requires.
The former Louisiana running back looks like he shot out of a cannon on the wide toss running plays and is extremely difficult to bring down after the line of scrimmage. Mitchell has 560 rushing yards on the season — 463 of them are after contact while forcing 19 missed tackles.
Mitchell is second in the NFL in rushing yards (593) behind Najee Harris (608) despite playing three fewer games than the first-rounder.
Mitchell’s doing all this while he’s battling a broken finger and an injury to his ribs. The talent and toughness for this rookie are off the charts, and that’s exactly why Shanahan has routinely trusted him with the ball in big spots over the last month of the season.
Kyle Shanahan’s had a running-back-by-committee approach during his tenure in San Francisco, but this season he’s really starting to lean on Mitchell as the 49ers have found their offensive identity.
Mitchell has had 27 carries in the last two games he’s played, and as his pass protection improves, he’ll continue to find more work on third down as well.
San Francisco’s 2021 draft selections have a lot of folks scratching their head, but there’s no doubt that they landed a star in the making with Elijah Mitchell.