49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is candid when he talks about his players’ abilities. There’s no sugarcoating; on the media side, that’s all we can ask for. So when Shanahan spoke about how difficult it was to trade Jeff Wilson, you could sense he knew he lost a reliable piece to his offense.
Shanahan hadn’t spoken to the media since the 49ers traded Wilson to the Miami Dolphins. Here he is on how hard it was to move Wilson:
“It was extremely hard. That was one that I was not happy about, excited about, but something I truly understand that I think was the best for the team. We got a lot of running backs here who can do some stuff. Jeff has been exactly what I want for a Niner. And he’s helped us in every situation possible. We got that opportunity to bring in Christian, Elijah coming back, we have a lot of other guys in the depth chart that give us depth, not that that that made Jeff expendable by any means.
I didn’t think it would happen at all because usually it doesn’t, but a team wanted him really bad and when they did it moved it up enough to where even though I was hoping it wouldn’t it, because I want him here this year. When you look at the future and how many games are left and what our rosters like, you have to make the best decision that isn’t always right now, it’s both. And for us to get a draft pick that we do need, give some of these other guys opportunities that they don’t need yet, because we are healthy, but I do think it’s the right thing for us in the long-term.”
Now that Elijah Mitchell is back in the fold, assuming he plays this week, he’ll slide into the Wilson role. In Week 1, Mitchell lined up out wide on four snaps, with 13 other snaps coming in the backfield. Last season, Mitchell had four snaps as an inline tight end, 30 snaps as a wide receiver, and 29 snaps in the slot. Those numbers would suggest that Shanahan is confident in Mitchell’s versatility.
Despite lining up all over, Mitchell never caught a pass that was further than ten yards down the field. The majority of his receiving production game at or underneath five yards, with ten of Mitchell’s 17 targets coming behind the line of scrimmage.
Here’s Shanahan on Mitchell’s receiving abilities compared to Wilson:
“Elijah has the capability to be just like that. I think it’s tough to do that when he has had the injuries that he’s had and there’s a skillset that takes time to develop through training camp, OTAs, practice, the quarterback, the looks, but even if you watch Elijah on his routes and check downs, he’s been very serviceable in the pass game and serviceable is good. The more Elijah plays and the more reps he gets, he could be very good at that.”
I remember watching Mitchell as a rookie in training camp, before he was injured, and thinking that he’d be a viable option out of the backfield. He’s athletic, can accelerate, and separate from linebackers. Hopefully, he can learn the ropes from Christian McCaffrey and take advantage of his opportunities in the second half of the season.