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Elijah Mitchell: Must-Add After Week 1 Usage in Kyle Shanahan’s Offense

Sep 13, 2021

If, three hours before kickoff, I told you that a San Francisco running back would carry the ball 19 times for 104 yards and a touchdown, which one would you guess it was? Probably not 2021 sixth-round pick Elijah Mitchell. But after Trey Sermon was a last-minute healthy scratch and Raheem Mostert sustained a knee injury in the first quarter, the backfield duties were left to Mitchell and JaMycal Hasty.

Alas, fantasy football’s unpredictability is both a blessing and a curse. Elijah Mitchell is worth an add from the waiver wire regardless.

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Mitchell seized his opportunity in the backfield. He finished as the fantasy RB10 (before Monday Night Football, at least).

Before entering the NFL, Mitchell played four seasons at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, totaling nearly 4,000 yards from scrimmage and 46 touchdowns. He isn’t a physical freak by any stretch, as he stands at 5-foot-10 and weighs 200 pounds, but he ran a 4.38 40-yard dash. That ranks in the 96th percentile of prospects. 

Mitchell looked decisive behind San Francisco’s stacked offensive line. He showed remarkable balance and impressive lower-body strength for a man his size by breaking multiple tackles. He dragged a 265-pound Lions defensive end Trey Flowers on one run, and he would’ve dragged him all the way to the first down marker had help not arrived.  Mitchell’s calling card, of course, is his explosive speed. He displayed that on his 38-yard touchdown run.

Unfortunately, Mitchell was not targeted on Sunday, so he may not have much of a role in the passing game.  

The State of The Offense

The 49ers field one of the best offenses for running backs, if not the best. Three of their offensive linemen finished Sunday with top-10 Pro Football Focus grades at their respective positions. 

From watching the game film, it’s clear that Mitchell’s job was made infinitely easier by the 49ers’ offensive line. However, that isn’t to say Mitchell didn’t look good. He did. 

Now, the elephant in the room: his backfield competition. It’s safe to say that Mitchell beat out JaMycal Hasty for touches. However, Trey Sermon remains a mystery. Mostert won’t be back this season, so Sermon will have a chance to prove that he was worth a third-round pick.

A running back would have to perform pretty poorly to look bad behind this offensive line, which is good news for Mitchell, but it also may hurt him when Sermon and co. gets their share of touches.  

Mitchell’s Outlook

Mitchell is the RB1 in San Francisco for the moment. Involvement in the passing game usually comes with time, but he wasn’t a spectacular pass-catcher in college, so his upside there is limited.

The 49ers will face the Philadelphia Eagles next week, which is a good matchup for Mitchell. Philadelphia allowed Atlanta’s Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson to combine for 22 carries and 103 yards despite the Eagles holding a decisive lead for most of the game. 

I have no issue with starting Mitchell in any league format next week. Sermon could play, but Mitchell made a great case to lead the team’s backfield in touches again. That said, because of the presence of Sermon and because of Kyle Shanahan’s willingness to experiment with different ball carriers, Mitchell’s long-term outlook is still a question. 

However, Shanahan has made it clear that he is willing to ride the hot hand, and that hand is Mitchell’s right now.

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TJ Horgan is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from TJ, check out his archive and follow him @tjhorgantv.

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