Kyle Shanahan’s offenses are synonymous with running the ball well. In 2016, the Atlanta Falcons finished fourth in rushing DVOA. The 2019 49ers finished seventh in the same category. Even if you go back to Robert Griffin III’s rookie year when Alfred Morris ran for over 1,600 yards, Washington was third in the NFL in rushing DVOA.
A Shanahan offense generally means you’re getting a running back by committee. Unfortunately for San Francisco, their best running back has failed to stay healthy for the duration of the season during the past few years.
Only the Detroit Lions (2013, Reggie Bush) have gone longer than the Niners without a 1,000-yard rusher. Both Philadelphia (2014, LeSean McCoy) and the 49ers (2014, Frank Gore) are next on the list.
After two carries to begin the season, it looked as though Raheem Mostert was well on his way to surpassing the 1,000-yard mark. After losing Mostert for the season, Elijah Mitchell put up promising numbers, but missing multiple games prevented the sixth-round rookie from reaching the 1,000-yard mark.
Under Shanahan, here have been the 49ers leading rushers with their average yards per carry:
‘17: Carlos Hyde, 938 yards/3.9
‘18: Matt Breida, 814 yards/5.3
‘19: Raheem Mostert, 772 yards/5.6
‘20: Jeff Wilson, 600 yards/4.8
‘21: Elijah Mitchell: 963 yards/4.7
Mostert’s 19 remains the most impressive when you factor in how many explosive carries he had.
22% of Mitchell’s carries ended up going for first downs, which was the same as Dalvin Cook and Derrick Henry. So it’s no surprise that Mitchell’s average yards per carry climbed the further away he ran from the center. Outside of injuries, his patience and inside running (2.6 yards per carry inside the guards) must improve moving forward.
Shanahan lauded Mitchell’s toughness this offseason. Mitchell appearing in 11 games is somewhat troubling as it means your backup running back gets plenty of action. As with most things 49er-related, health is paramount for their success in the ground game.