The 49ers may or may not have their franchise quarterback in the building, but they certainly have found their franchise running back.
The 49ers traded three first-rounders and a third for the No. 3 pick in the draft, which they used on Trey Lance, who isn't their starter yet. He's on the slow track.
With their final pick, no. 194, they took Elijah Mitchell, who seemed like an afterthought at the time. He was the second running back they drafted after Trey Sermon.
But when Raheem Mostert went down on his second carry of the season, Mitchell replaced him. And so far, through the first half of the season, Mitchell is playing like the next Terrell Davis. Mitchell is averaging 16.2 carries per game and 5.3 yards per carry. Big numbers.
To put them in perspective, when Davis was a rookie, he averaged 16.9 carries per game and 4.7 yards per carry. And he went on to be a Hall of Famer.
Remember, Davis played for Kyle Shanahan's father, Mike Shanahan, as well as the 49ers' current running backs coach, Bobby Turner. Which means Davis' position coach has developped Mitchell, too. And Davis was pick No. 196 in 1995, while Mitchell was pick No. 194 in 2021.
What a find for the 49ers.
"What's interesting about (Mitchell)," said offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, "is you don't know that going into the season. You start in training camp and you're like, ‘Man, there might be something there’ and then getting in games, ‘Wow, he hit the right hole again.’ I think Trent Williams said something to us this week, there was a play, it was probably the third run of the game in the first quarter, inside zone to the right. And it wasn't blocked premierly so, Mitchell had to just get downhill and he ran into Trent’s back. And Trent was like, ‘I haven't been hit that hard by a running back since Adrian Peterson. So, there's some stuff to his game that the more he plays, the more you realize that he's a special young player and there's a reason why he's having productivity. You'd have no way of knowing. Even grainy Louisiana-Lafayette tape wouldn't tell you that.”
Q: With Elijah, it seems that the past two weeks especially, he's really fitting through and hitting those small creases on outside. Is that a matter of him, as a rookie, getting a step faster, a step more confident as he's kind of gotten used to the NFL?
“For sure, that's what was really funny about or interesting about him early in the season. His second carry was a 38-yard touchdown. So, you saw it, but then you see it more on a play-in, play-out basis. At the beginning of the season, he was a hair indecisive. You're seeing more explosive runs but also more yards per carry because each week he's getting a little bit more decisive, which is a real thing. The NFL game is a lot faster, the holes are smaller and I know there's a lot of plays that one of the reasons he's having success is because he looks at his tape and says, ‘Wow, I've left a lot of yards out there.’ That's the way he looks at it. And with that approach, you can continue to get better and be more productive in tight areas.”