For the second year in a row, the 49ers are forced to go into Week Two without their starting running back.
After a promising rookie year, Elijah Mitchell was set to lead the 49ers backfield. Early in the second quarter this last Sunday, Mitchell was seen heading into the locker room after taking a one-yard carry. He was then quickly announced to be out for the remainder of the game and then, later on, was announced to miss around two months.
The Impact Mitchell’s Injury Has On The 49ers
During the 2021 season, Mitchell played in 11 games. Throughout those 11 games, he carried the ball 207 times to produce 963-rushing yards. Mitchell also added 19 receptions for 137-receiving yards and a combined six touchdowns. After a productive rookie year, Mitchell had 49er fans excited for what the young running back would achieve in the 2022 campaign.
Throughout preseason Mitchell was recovering from a hamstring injury that he suffered during camp. After only being cleared to play Week One several days before the game, Mitchell suffered a knee injury that will cause him to miss around half of the season.
49ers’ RB Elijah Mitchell is expected to be sidelined about two months with the sprained MCL that he suffered Sunday at Chicago, per league sources. — Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 12, 2022
Before Mitchell had exited the contest this last Sunday, he produced 41-rushing yards on six carries. Averaging 6.8 yards per carry, Mitchell looked to be off to another promising season. Once Mitchell had been taken out of the game, the 49ers’ running game struggled to get going. Without their lead running back, the offense struggled to find an identity in the backfield. With Mitchell missing a big portion of the season, the question remains on who will take the role as the lead running back.
The only active veteran running back on the 49ers’ active roster is currently Jeff Wilson. After Mitchell had left the game, Wilson was given the most touches out of the backfield this last Sunday. He was asked to carry the ball nine times which resulted in only 22-rushing yards. This came out to an inefficient day of 2.4 yards per carry.
Wilson is playing his fifth season in the league and throughout his career has almost always served as a backup for the 49ers, besides a few spot starts. He has never been the most efficient running back but he is a proven pass catcher that could help quarterback Trey Lance. Although he is not listed as a running back, fellow veteran Deebo Samuel could see an even higher increase in carries due to his versatility. Kyle Shanahan had already shown his intentions to get Deebo involved in the rushing game in Week One.
The 49ers also signed veteran running back Marlon Mack to the practice squad as a depth piece. In 2019 Mack had rushed for over 1,000 yards
The Rookies Battle For A Role In The Offense
The 49ers added two rookie running backs to their roster this off-season. Tyrion Davis-Price was drafted 93rd overall in the 2022 NFL Draft and fellow rookie Jordan Mason was an undrafted free agent. Elijah Mitchell’s injury has given both the rookies a chance to make a real mark in their first season.
Tyrion Davis-Price rushed for 1,003 yards in his final season at LSU. Drafting a running back in the third round gives high expectations for a rookie. Davis-Price played in all three preseason games getting 24 carries for 74-rushing yards. Averaging just 3.1 yards per carry, the rookie looks like he needs improvement before taking the backfield.
Jordan Mason may have only produced 439 rushing yards in his final season at Georgia Tech, but averaged 5.2 yards per carry throughout his college career. The undrafted free agent surprised 49er fans with a strong preseason. Mason was given 19 carries for 94-rushing yards averaging out to 4.9 yards per carry. Both rookies will look to play in Week Two and improve their spot within the depth chart.
49ers Backfield Predictions
For Week Two it is pretty safe to say that Jeff Wilson will get the start in the backfield. His performance throughout the game will determine if the spot is his to keep.
We can also expect both rookies to get some carries. If either rookie running back were to have a breakout game, we can expect them to get a shot at being the lead running back for the 49ers while Mitchell is injured. Tyrion Davis-Price was a healthy scratch for Week One while Jordan Mason was listed active but did not get a chance to touch the ball. Based on Mason being the only of the two listed active, it is likely that he will serve as Wilson’s backup in Week Two.
Deebo Samuel will also be an important role in the rushing game, as usual. He may now be called on more often to help the offense move the ball down the field. It is also worth noting that starting quarterback Trey Lance showed off his ability to run the ball so it would not be a surprise to see more run option plays in use in Week Two.
Shanahan spoke to the media about the situation at running back and said he would go with the “hot hand” this week. Who will have it?