Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

49ers rookie sensation Elijah Mitchell inspired by this legendary running back

Rohan Chakravarthi
Nov 30, 2021 at 7:16 PM--

At the beginning of the season, who would've thought that sixth-round pick Elijah Mitchell would be the most productive 49er in their 2021 NFL Draft class? After all, the Louisiana product was a late round pick, in a crowded backfield, and seen more as a pick for 2022, much like San Francisco's first-round pick Trey Lance.

However, the backfield situation quickly turned chaotic, as Jeff Wilson Jr. injured his meniscus during a freak accident during the offseason, 3rd round pick Trey Sermon lost ground during training camp, and Raheem Mostert injured his knee almost immediately during San Francisco's Week 1 defeat of the Detroit Lions.

All of a sudden, the sixth-round pick was thrust into the spotlight, as he rushed for over 100 yards in his first game, which was a welcome sign for the 49ers, whose offense relies on an effective rushing scheme.

Half a season later, Mitchell, just two weeks removed from a broken finger, rushed 27 times in a hard-fought effort against the Minnesota Vikings, totaling 168 all-purpose yards in what seemed like a must-win for the 49ers.

Earlier Tuesday, Elijah Mitchell appeared on the Rich Eisen show, where he spoke about his NFL journey and who inspired him at the running back position as a 5'10,"200-pound multi-dimensional running back

"One guy that I watched [play] football, being a running back—Barry Sanders," Mitchell said. "That is an awesome running back."

Interestingly, Mitchell was born in 1998, which was the same year that the legendary Barry Sanders retired, despite only being in his age-30 season, having an amazing season with 1,491 rushing yards, and having not missed a regular-season game over his last five seasons.

So, if Mitchell never watched Sanders live, how did he become such a fan of the former Detroit Lions star?

"My high school coach, Coach [David Comeaux], he used to always harp on about that," Mitchell said. "He showed me film of him, and ever since then, I've just been watching his highlights and stuff. Man, just the way he moves and makes people miss, that's just something I want to do, and something that I wanted to do. So, that was the guy that I watched."

Being the focal point of a powerful rushing attack Sunday, a game which saw the 49ers rush for over 200 yards, Mitchell helped San Francisco get to 6-5 on the season, earning sole possession of the NFC's 6th seed in the playoff seeding.

With the 49ers finally establishing themselves as a potential contender in the NFC, Mitchell was asked whether the 49ers began to mention the Super Bowl in the locker room.

"Most definitely. That's a goal," Mitchell shared. "That's the number one goal that we have, the Super Bowl…We always talk about that 2019 [season]. We've got to get back to where we was in 2019, so that's something that we harp on, and I just say we've got to keep making this run so that can happen."

During the 2019 season, San Francisco certainly exceeded expectations, going 13-3 and making the Super Bowl, despite going just 4-12 in the previous season and earning the #2 overall pick in the 2019 draft, which turned out to be star defensive end Nick Bosa.

What was the formula of success during that championship run? The rushing attack, which was then led by Raheem Mostert, who memorably ran for 220 yards during the 49ers' blowout of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game.

With the 49ers seeking a similar result this year, the rookie Mitchell will be tasked with a heavy load as the featured running back in the recently-rejuvenated and dynamic San Francisco offense.

You can watch the rest of Mitchell's interview with Rich Eisen here:

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