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Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Why Elijah Mitchell’s return will be huge for the 49ers

Rohan Chakravarthi
Jan 7, 2023 at 2:45 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers officially activated Elijah Mitchell from the Injured Reserve list, placing him on track to make his return against the Arizona Cardinals, alongside wide receiver Deebo Samuel.

Mitchell has faced two MCL sprains this season, limiting him to just four games in 2022.

But, with a full week of practice, the running back appears ready for a late-season push with the 49ers.

Mitchell's impact

In a small four-game sample-size, Mitchell has been incredibly efficient this season, rushing for 224 yards on 5.6 yards per carry after earning 963 yards on 4.7 yards per carry in 2021.

Through 40 attempts, Mitchell continues to work well through contact, earning 2.5 yards per carry after contact, while being the beneficiary of strong blocking as well.

But, Mitchell's impact goes far past the box scores.

With the second-year running back in the fold, San Francisco has two running backs with the capability of executing both inside and outside-zone, opening up the entirety of their playbook.

In the first half of the season, the 49ers were a one-dimensional rushing attack with Jeff Wilson Jr. as the bell-cow back, diminishing their rushing efficiency to amongst the worst in the NFL.

With Christian McCaffrey, that has changed, as the 49ers have re-found their identity on the ground, while reaping the benefits of his ability in the passing game as well.

Adding Mitchell to the formula only furthers the running game in both inside and outside-zone concepts, which is incredibly vital in the playoffs where physicality becomes a huge part of the atmosphere.

But, not only does Mitchell add value in the running game, but the Louisiana product has been a viable pass-catcher as well.

Currently, the main issue with San Francisco's backup running backs has been in the passing game, which has forced an extensive load for Christian McCaffrey in certain games.

Mitchell can be a serviceable route-runner and pass-catcher out of the backfield, which helps San Francisco avoid sharing tells with their offense, while also being more comfortable.

In regards to comfort, it's clear that head coach Kyle Shanahan has trust in Elijah Mitchell as a premier back in his offense, which is necessary to take some of the load from Christian McCaffrey.

In Mitchell's first game back from an MCL sprain in Week 10, the running back earned a team-high 18 carries.

Mitchell has the trust of the coaching staff and the ability to fulfill the responsibilities of the 49ers' offense, which is why his return will be huge for the team.
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