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49ers 90-in-90: Can the 49ers rely on Elijah Mitchell in 2022?

Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days). Today is RB Elijah Mitchell

Minnesota Vikings v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

There’s no doubt the 49ers missed Raheem Mostert in 2021. You don’t replace arguably the fastest player in the NFL, who is a walking explosive play. The pressure Mostert took off the rest of the offense by turning would-be five, and six-yard gains into 12 or more yards cannot be understated.

Unfortunately, Mostert didn’t make it out of the first quarter during Week 1 of the 2021 season. That paved the way for the second running back the 49ers drafted last year to lead the way, Elijah Mitchell.

Mitchell ended up appearing in 11 games and averaged 4.7 yards per carry. Mitchell ran hard, and that’s why he finished second in broken tackle percentage among running backs who broke at least 20 tackles. Mitchell was also fifth among all running backs who had at least 500 rushing yards in yards after contact with 2.9.

His numbers were impressive in that regard, but Mitchell became too predictable. He averaged 6.1 yards per tackle rushing to the edge, but his numbers fell off a cliff the further inside the carry went. That figure dropped to 4.6 when rushing off the tackle and only 2.6 when rushing between the guards.

A lack of leg drive on contact was an issue. In addition, Mitchell doesn’t have the functional power needed to excel as an inside runner, and his impatience as a ball carrier didn’t help.

Basic Info

Age: 24

Experience: One accrued season

Height: 5’10”

Weight: 200 lbs.

Cap Status

Mitchell won’t become an unrestricted free agent until the 2025 offseason. And not until 2024 will he have a cap number over $1 million. That’s why hitting on late-rounders can be beneficial to teams. The players cost next to nothing, and you have them under control for four years.

Where he can improve in 2022

As I stated above, Mitchell can slow down. For example, early in the season, he’d hold the turbo button down, run up the backs of the offensive line, and miss a potential hole. Or, there were times when he’d be too quick to the line of scrimmage and miss a cutback lane.

With that said, Mitchell was still productive as a rookie. He finished with over 22% of his carries resulting in a first down. For reference, the league leaders are in the high 20s. Still, the Niners don’t use a third-round pick the year after Mitchell nearly rushes for 1,000 yards if they didn’t want more out of him.

The easiest way for Mitchell to improve is by staying on the field. It seemed like he was always on the injury report, even if he ended up playing in the game.

Less is more in 2022

In his final five games, Mitchell had at least 21 carries. In three of those, he averaged 3.4, 3.0, and 4.0 yards per carry. It’s nice to have a workhorse back that you can rely on, but if he’s not producing, you have to go a different direction. I believe the “less is more” phrase will come true for Mitchell this season. If Ty Davis-Price serves as the every-down back, Mitchell will be the change of pace back.

According to Pro Football Reference, 448 of Mitchell’s yards came before contact. So, it’s not as though the line didn’t provide holes for him. The best way I could sum up how Mitchell played as a rookie is, “good, but not good enough.” And that’s why the Niners added another running back.