Every year in every sport, breakout stars come out of nowhere and make a name for themselves. Everyone knows about Trent Williams, Fred Warner, and George Kittle, but who will be the Niners’ unheralded success story this year? Will they have one?
The Shield went through each team and predicted who their first-time Pro Bowler would be. For San Francisco, they chose running back Elijah Mitchell:
The 49ers enjoyed quality production from Mitchell as a rookie, with the former Louisiana star becoming San Francisco’s bell-cow back and averaging close to five yards per carry. Add in the experience gained from 2021 to a Kyle Shanahan-led offense that can be counted on to maximize running back potential, and you have a player who should take the next step. If that comes in 2022 — and if the 49ers replicate their success from last season — Mitchell’s name is going to become a popular one.
I’m bearish on Mitchell in 2022. His injuries led the 49ers to draft a running back in the third round, and that can’t be ignored. But even on the field, there were questions despite some relative success for a rookie.
When Mitchell ran inside, he was sub-par. I felt like Mitchell’s vision, and impatience hurt him. There’s no doubt he ran hard, and that allowed Elijah to bounce off tackles, but I expected more explosive rushing plays from a guy who ran 4.3.
As the president of the Azeez Al-Shaair fan club, that’d be my selection. Then again, there’s no guarantee Azeez starts as he’ll need to beat out Dre Greenlaw during training camp. Al-Shaair showed off impressive playmaking skills last year that didn’t feel like a fluke.
Year 3 could be a breakout for Brandon Aiyuk if he takes advantage of his opportunities. The field at wide receiver isn’t easy, and Aiyuk would have to surpass double-digit touchdown to earn the necessary recognition likely.
Who is your pick?