While several of the top picks in the 49ers' most recent draft class have struggled to make an impact this season, running back Elijah Mitchell, their final selection in this year’s draft, has been one of the most impressive rookies in the NFL. Despite lasting until the sixth round, Mitchell has been one of the most productive rookies in the league.
The Niners have suffered several injuries on their running back depth chart this season, including Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr., who were expected to be the team’s top two backs coming into the season. However, working without two of the organization’s most talented runners, offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel has seen Mitchell develop into a formidable runner firsthand. In his weekly press conference earlier this week, McDaniel talked about how impressed he’s been by the rookie back:
“What’s interesting about him [Elijah Mitchell] is you don’t know that going into the season. You start in training camp and you’re like, ‘wow, there’s some stuff in practice when he’s not getting tackled.’ I remember talking to you guys about it over the summer, and you’re like, ‘man, there might be something there’ and then getting in games. ‘Wow, he hit the right hole. again.’ I think [T] Trent Williams said something to us this week, there was a play, it was probably the third run of the game in the first quarter, inside zone to the right. And it wasn’t blocked premierly so, he had to just get downhill and he ran into Trent’s back. And Trent was like, ‘I haven’t been hit that hard by a running back since [Tennessee Titans RB] Adrian Peterson. So, there’s some stuff to his game that the more he plays, the more you realize that he’s a special young player and there’s a reason why he’s having productivity. You’d have no way of knowing. Even grainy Louisiana-Lafayette tape wouldn’t tell you that.”
Despite playing just five games (four starts) this season, Mitchell has amassed 433 rushing yards, ranking second among rookies behind only Najee Harris, who has played two more games and received 47 more carries. Of the 16 running backs in the 2021 draft class who have had at least one rushing attempt this season, Mitchell ranks first with 5.3 yards per carry.