Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

‘He’s just a really tough-minded kid’: How Elijah Mitchell exceeded the 49ers’ expectations

Dec 2, 2021 at 4:54 PM--

The way he's been playing, Elijah Mitchell may be a game or two away from breaking the 50-year-old San Francisco 49ers franchise record for the most rushing yards by a rookie. He is just 119 yards shy of surpassing Vic Washington's mark of 811 rushing yards in 1971.

Mitchell was a sixth-round draft pick. He wasn't even the first running back selected this year by the 49ers. The team drafted Trey Sermon three rounds earlier. However, Mitchell has become the breakout rookie for the team. And the young running back has proven to be a tough player, too, fighting through shoulder, rib, and finger injuries.

General manager John Lynch joined KNBR on Thursday and was asked how a player as talented and tough as Mitchell slips to the draft's sixth round.

"I don't know. I'm glad he did, though," Lynch responded on the Tolbert, Krueger & Brooks show. "I really am. Really, it's fun when you have this collective effort, and we really pride ourselves on that [when it comes to] scouting—our college scouts, who work so hard. And so there's area scouts. And then there's the national scouts that oversee them. And our scouting director.

"But then it takes coaches a little longer because they're focused on what they should be—coaching football, coaching our team. But in the offseason, they get caught up.

"Elijah is a guy that, collectively, we all really liked. And as we got together on Day 3 of the draft, we do a thing where every scout kind of stands up and says, 'OK, of the guys left, who's high on your list?' And he's a guy that just kept popping up, and we had really come to appreciate throughout the process.

"I would tell you, because a lot of people [say], 'Well, if you liked him so much, why did you wait until the sixth round?' I would also tell you, 'I think he's exceeded our expectations.' We thought he was a really good fit for what we did, and he had that speed element that we always look for."

As a rookie, Mitchell has recorded 693 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns through eight game appearances and seven starts. That's a lot of production from a player who every team repeatedly passed on in the draft.

"I think sometimes you get helped out by a guy like Elijah, who didn't run as well [during his pro day]," Lynch continued. "He lost a lot bunch of weight for his pro day, for whatever reason, and I think sometimes guys do that in an effort to run faster. They actually hurt themselves because they lose some of their power."

Lynch referred back to his pre-draft notes, which said that he liked Mitchell better at his heavier weight. Maybe other teams felt the same way, and it ended up benefitting the 49ers.

"I'm sure glad we have him," Lynch added. "I think one thing, for the folks out there, I have so much admiration for this kid's toughness. He's had a tough year in terms of injuries. Cartilage in his ribs in the front. Cartilage in his ribs in the back. His finger. He endured a [finger] surgery and then is out there a week later. He's just a really tough-minded kid. He sees the holes well. I love the way he finishes runs. He just fits who we are as a team extremely well."

You can listen to the entire conversation with Lynch below.

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