In addition, running back Elijah Mitchell has also been on the shelf with his own hamstring injury.
But the 49ers may be starting to get healthier.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters this week that Mitchell is on his way to being able to play in Week 1 of the regular season versus the Chicago Bears.
Kyle Shanahan told reporters that RB Elijah Mitchell is on track to return Week 1 vs. Chicago.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 23, 2022
This would be a significant piece of good news, especially given Shanahan’s offensive scheme and the situation at quarterback.
Mitchell Broke Out As A Rookie
When Mitchell was taken in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, not a whole lot was expected out of him.
But he broke out in a pretty big way during his rookie campaign last season.
In Week 1 versus the Detroit Lions, he had 104 rushing yards on 19 carries plus a touchdown as the Niners won, 41-33.
— Alex Tran (@nineralex) September 16, 2021
With starter Raheem Mostert suffering cartilage damage in his knee during that contest, Mitchell became the team’s RB1 and did very well, posting 963 yards, a 4.7 yard per carry average, and five touchdowns in 11 games.
Here’s how rookie Elijah Mitchell finished the regular season among all running backs:
• 963 yards rushing (8th)
• 765 yards after contact (5th)
• 29 explosive runs – runs over 10 yards (4th)
• 0 fumbles (1st)
Keep in mind he only played in 11 games 🤯 pic.twitter.com/JCaSmyHRth
— Coach Yac 🗣 (@Coach_Yac) February 5, 2022
He went over the 100-yard mark in five of those games, including a 137-yard effort in Week 8 at Chicago and 133 yards in Week 12 versus the Minnesota Vikings.
It propelled Mitchell to the 49ers’ rookie rushing record, breaking Vic Washington‘s mark that had stood for a half-century.
Some feel Mitchell is a bit overrated, but others feel he has a serious future ahead of him.
— WayneBreezie (@WayneBreezie) April 1, 2022
Last night I was watching highlights from last season, and there is zero doubt in my mind that Elijah Mitchell will be the first #49ers running back to lead the team in rushing back-to-back years under Shanahan.
Mitchell is an absolute Pitbull.
RB1 no contest.
— Nick Newman (@NinerNick_22) August 15, 2022
Best bet to win the rushing title this year? pic.twitter.com/fkSQs8r9vL
— Josh Eberley 🇨🇦 (@JoshEberley) August 24, 2022
Given that he missed six games in 2021, there are some questions about Mitchell’s durability, but if he stays healthy, he can help spearhead the Niners’ offensive attack.
San Francisco Wins By Running The Football
The 49ers ranked fifth in rushing attempts last year, and as long as Shanahan is at the helm, they will continue to punish teams by running the football.
Having Mitchell to start the season will be a big help in that department.
Mitchell’s presence will also make things easy on new starting QB Trey Lance.
Lance Will Benefit From Mitchell’s Return
Since Lance is still a brand-new product, Shanahan will likely make things easier on him, especially early on, by running more rushing and short-yardage plays for him.
Mitchell will have to be a sizable part of that strategy.
His threat as a rusher can also open things up for Lance to make plays and move the chains with his own legs, something he is quite adept at doing.