Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

From special teams hopeful to surprising 49ers star: Rookie Elijah Mitchell grateful for the opportunity

Dec 2, 2021 at 8:50 AM--

In August, San Francisco 49ers rookie running back Elijah Mitchell said he was willing to do "anything and everything" just to make the roster. As a sixth-round pick, and the team's last selection in this year's draft, nothing was guaranteed for him. Mitchell wasn't even the first running back drafted by the 49ers. The team selected Trey Sermon in the third round.

For Mitchell, that meant doing whatever was asked of him just to ensure that his time with the 49ers didn't come to a close.

"Like I said, I'm willing to do anything and everything just to be on this team," Mitchell said. "So, [special teams] is going to be one of my roles but also being a running back too. But have I have to take special teams seriously, and that's what I plan to do."

Now, four months later, Mitchell is the 49ers' leading rusher and has to be in the conversation of the NFL's best young running backs. He looks like the team's back of the future. Mitchell has rushed for 693 yards and four touchdowns in eight game appearances and seven starts. Amazingly, he did so while banged up, having dealt with shoulder, rib, and finger injuries.

Mitchell's 693 rushing yards lead all NFL rookie running backs, and his 4.8 yards per carry ranks second only to Javonte Williams of the Denver Broncos.

No one sees Mitchell as a key special teams contributor anymore. Instead, he is a featured part of the 49ers offense and proving to be the workhorse the team has lacked for years. But, despite his early success, Mitchell isn't taking this opportunity for granted.

"I'm just happy that I got drafted," Mitchell told 95.7 The Game's Whitey Gleason and Ray Ratto on Wednesday. "But either way it goes, drafted high, drafted low, I'm always going to have that mindset of trying to be the best."

Mitchell's early mindset of doing whatever it takes to make the roster has helped him prove to his coaches that they can depend on the young running back. He may have been seeking to make an impact on special teams, but he always had his eyes set on a more significant role.

"I always had that mindset of coming in and wanting to play, wanting to start, really," Mitchell said. "But when I first came in, it was the thought that everybody had, where they're coming in, being drafted. Special teams, that was my one key because I knew we had a deep room and everything. But things happen, so when it was my time, when my name was called, I was just ready to go."

As for Mitchell's finger fracture, the injury doesn't appear to be hindering the running back's production. Within two weeks of surgery to repair the fracture, he carried the football 27 times for 133 yards and a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings in 49 offensive snaps.

"It's a finger," Mitchell said. "It's football. You've just got to play through things like that. I've been doing a pretty good job taking care of that."

You can listen to the entire conversation with Mitchell below.

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