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Top 10 most impactful 49ers in 2022: No. 9 Elijah Mitchell

Rohan Chakravarthi
Jul 16, 2022 at 3:00 PM--

With the 2022 NFL season approaching ever-so-rapidly, let's take one last look at the San Francisco 49ers' 2021 season, ranking the ten most impactful players on a team that made an appearance in the NFC Championship Game.

Earlier this week, I listed my two honorable mentions, Jaquiski Tartt and D.J. Jones, and followed with No. 10 on the list, center Alex Mack.

Now, let's continue with the ninth-most impactful player from the 2021 season: running back Elijah Mitchell.

No. 9: RB Elijah Mitchell

Elijah Mitchell had a historic season for San Francisco in 2021 as he rushed for 963 yards, surpassing Ken Washington's franchise rookie record of 811 yards in 1971.

What's even more impressive is that Mitchell reached that number in just 11 games (10 starts) while averaging 87.5 yards per game on 4.7 yards per carry.

Mitchell had over 200 carries, which was only the 2nd time a rusher eclipsed the feat in the Shanahan-Lynch era, despite the 49ers boasting a prolific rushing attack for the last five seasons.

In Week 1, when starting running back Raheem Mostert went down with a season-ending knee injury, the 49ers were depleted at the position, having already lost running back Jeff Wilson Jr. to the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list in the offseason.

In came Mitchell, a sixth-round draft pick in 2021, ahead of third-rounder Trey Sermon and second-year running back JaMycal Hasty, and he performed exceptionally well for his first game, rushing 19 times for 104 yards and a touchdown.

The 49ers had a slew of injuries at the running back position, losing Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr., and even Trey Sermon for periods of time in 2021, forcing the team to utilize Mitchell as a "bell-cow" back.

With the heavy load, Mitchell was the primary force behind San Francisco's seventh-best rushing attack in terms of yards, sixth-best in carries, and sixth-best in touchdowns.

Mitchell's rushing was uniquely correlated with San Francisco victories, as the team went 6-1 when the Louisiana product rushed for more than 75 yards in a game.

Additionally, over the second half of the season, when the 49ers went on their 7-2 run, Mitchell was depended on even more, averaging 23.6 carries per game in his five appearances. During the first half of the season, when the 49ers went 4-5, Mitchell had a significantly decreased workload, averaging 14.8 carries per game during his six appearances.

Mitchell's two most important games came as San Francisco attempted to turn their season around by dominating the time of possession, which meant a significant number of rushing attempts.

Mitchell achieved his two highest carry counts—27 (twice)—against the Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota Vikings, where the 49ers pounded the ball successfully to win both games, aiding a three-game win streak to bring their season record to 6-5.

Looking at the analytics, Mitchell was extremely efficient on 1st down, rushing 116 times for 611 yards and a touchdown, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

Not only was Mitchell important as a bell-cow in the run game, but the rookie running back was also an asset in the passing attack, catching 19 passes on 20 targets for 137 yards and a touchdown.

Speaking purely from an impact standpoint, Mitchell ranks relatively high on the list because the 49ers offense puts such a significant emphasis on running the ball.

However, Mitchell isn't ranked higher on the list because of some durability concerns that caused him to miss several weeks in different parts of the season.

Additionally, Mitchell appeared to wane as games went along, averaging just 4.3 yards per carry in the second half of games as opposed to 5.1 yards per carry in the first half of games.

Mitchell also experienced a decrease in efficiency when the 49ers trailed in games, averaging just 4.3 yards per carry as well.

While Mitchell was a strong first-down rusher, he struggled more in other situations, averaging only four yards per carry on second, third, and fourth downs.

Still, Mitchell was an important member of the 49ers offense and addressed the holes in a running back room that lacked both top-end talent and depth, which is why he comes in as the ninth-most impactful 49er in 2021.

Stay tuned for No. 8 on the list soon!
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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