One guy that I am against the general consensus on is Elijah Mitchell. While many experts are low on him, I feel the opposite. I’m inclined to buy at his current price. He is currently the 23rd RB according to FantasyPros ECR rankings, being drafted at the 4-5 turn. Let’s look at why this is a great value.
Starting with his performance in 2021, Mitchell was a great asset. He finished 14th in fantasy points per game, which is borderline RB1 territory. Among all 19 RBs with at least 200 carries last season, Mitchell was 3rd in yards after contact/attempt, only behind Nick Chubb and Jonathan Taylor, and right ahead of Javonte Williams and Derrick Henry… that’s some good company. He also averaged a very healthy 4.7 YPC and rushed for almost 1,000 yards in just 11 games (1 of which he didn’t get a carry in due to injury). In theory, he would’ve paced for just under 1,500 rushing yards on a 17-game sample size, which would have been second in the NFL behind only Jonathan Taylor.
On top of this, his opportunity share was good for 3rd in the entire league at over 80%. This type of opportunity along with solid production, in unison with no real situational change, is normally near impossible to find this late in the draft. So why is he going so late?
There are two primary reasons that people are scared, the first being that some of Mitchell’s advanced efficiency stats are a bit lackluster. This does not concern me, however. Mitchell was able to handle a very large workload while producing at a high level, proven by his previously mentioned yardage and YPC totals. That is a very valuable ability, especially for a run-heavy team like the 49ers. His efficiency metrics were most likely affected by the scheme too, as Mitchell saw 7 defenders in the box at the 2nd highest rate in the league along with finishing top 10 in stuffed runs. Efficiency stats are a solid measure of a player’s production and ability but definitely do not tell the whole story. Mitchell should continue to see massive volume so his efficiency doesn’t need to be top-tier, and let’s not forget that Trey Lance’s ability as a runner will open up plenty of newfound rushing lanes in 2022.
The second concern I hear is regarding Shanahan and his history of rotating his RBs. This is valid to a degree, as the 49ers haven’t had the same leading rusher once in the past 5 years. However, if you look back year by year, this can clearly be attributed to injuries and/or lack of real talent. They are not just going to stop playing Mitchell for no reason. And he hasn’t given them a reason so far.
The only piece they’ve added to the backfield is Tyrion Davis-Price, the late 3rd round rookie out of LSU. He’s a guy I’m not really worried about. Despite decent draft capital, TDP shouldn’t come in and take a ton of touches. He is a bigger back who could maybe take some short-yardage work, but he lacks explosiveness and top-end speed as seen by his middling speed and burst scores from the combine. This will make it tough for him to garner any sort of consistent role in year 1. Mitchell, on the other hand, provides the Niners with these qualities which are vital to any run game. I would recommend the rookie as a solid stash or handcuff, but Mitchell’s proven ability to produce while maintaining a large workload, along with his explosiveness will allow him to once again be the guy in 2022.
Being drafted as a low-end RB2/flex option, I am taking that value every day of the week for a guy who has a strong chance to border or even crack into RB1 status in his 2nd season.