The Spotlight Series
A Footballguys Spotlight is an in-depth look at a player. His plusses and minuses are examined, and we give you our bottom-line stance on his 2022 prospects. If a player listed below doesn't yet have a link, don't worry. It's coming soon.
"I think he's an exciting guy to watch. He's going to be a big part of this football team, both offensively and [on] special teams. And I like his mentality. He goes about it the right way. Very mature kid for the fact that he's a rookie, and I think he'll be a great addition." -- John Lynch, 49ers GM
Lynch had heaping praise for Elijah Mitchell after his only preseason game as he entered his rookie year in 2021. But Mitchell was unsure if he'd even make the team after being the 49ers' final selection - and second running back - earlier that year. After battling injuries in training camp, he didn't have many chances to prove himself. But the 49ers saw enough to hand him the ball 19 times in his career debut in Week 1 against the Lions. That set the tone for an impressive rookie year in which he amassed nearly 1,000 yards in just eleven games. Much of the concern surrounding Mitchell centers on the 49ers' unwillingness to commit to a singular running back. Some point to the lack of receiving work as a reason to avoid Mitchell in fantasy football. But head coach Kyle Shanahan tipped his hand in 2021, and many signs point to Elijah Mitchell retaining a significant role and finishing as a top-twelve running back in 2022.
The Shanahan Backfield
NFL analysts, executives, and fans view Kyle Shanahan as an offensive genius, with his run scheme being one of the most creative the league has ever seen. And while that has translated to NFL success, it hasn't necessarily shown up in fantasy football. Injuries have plagued the 49ers, with the backfield not exempt. Those injuries have created the perception that Shanahan prefers a multi-back, committee approach. In 2019, that was the case. The trio of Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, and Matt Breida missed a combined five games and split carries almost evenly. But that 2019 season was the only one in which no running back averaged at least ten carries per game. In 2021, the misconception of a committee preference should have been disproven. Elijah Mitchell averaged more carries per game than any Shanahan back since he took over in San Francisco.
TABLE: A Look at Kyle Shanahan's RB Usage (2017-2021)
|Player||Year||Rushing Market Share||Carries Per Game||Yards Per Game||Touchdowns Per Game||PPG Finish|
Mitchell's yards per game clip stands out, as well. He didn't sacrifice efficiency when given volume, as his 4.65 yards per carry mark tied him with Dalvin Cook for third among running backs who saw at least 200 carries. Only Nick Chubb and Jonathan Taylor averaged more. Speaking of volume, he was just the second running back in the Shanahan era to carry the ball more than 200 times. Mitchell did so while playing in just 11 games. He operated as a workhorse when he was on the field.
TABLE: Elijah Mitchell Weekly Touch Share, 2021
|Week||% of RB Touches|
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