It was a common occurrence for the 49ers to heavily rely on rookie running back Elijah Mitchell in 2021. However, with the addition of Christian McCaffrey to the team, Mitchell is struggling to see any playing time.
During the 49ers’ recent victory over the Los Angeles Rams, Mitchell was one of four active and healthy players who did not get on the field. In contrast, McCaffrey played every offensive snap for the team. Coach Kyle Shanahan admitted that the team made a mistake with their running back rotation and acknowledged the need to involve Mitchell more.
McCaffrey currently leads the NFL in rushing attempts and yards through two weeks of the season. In the Week 1 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he rushed for 152 yards while Mitchell only played 10 snaps.
Shanahan mentioned that the responsibility for substitutions generally lies with the position coaches, while his primary focus is on play-calling. However, he also acknowledged that he should have noticed and requested Mitchell’s involvement.
During his rookie season, Mitchell battled injuries but carried a heavy workload when he was on the field. In his last five regular season games, he had two games with 27 rushing attempts and three games with at least 21 carries. He also had 27 carries in the 49ers’ playoff-opening win over the Dallas Cowboys.
Mitchell’s playing time significantly diminished with the arrival of McCaffrey in the middle of last season. While McCaffrey is considered one of the best running backs in the league, it doesn’t mean that Mitchell should have no role in the 49ers’ offense.