49ers RB Elijah Mitchell should get heavy dose of snaps vs. Raiders

San Francisco 49ers running back Elijah Mitchell (49) Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers running back Elijah Mitchell (49) Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports /

The 49ers have yet to see what rookie running back Elijah Mitchell can do during preseason action, so he should see the field a lot against the Raiders.

Just before the 2021 preseason kicked off, San Francisco 49ers rookie running back Elijah Mitchell was one player Niner Noise tabbed as a key player to watch when the team kicked off its exhibition period against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Yet Mitchell, the sixth-round NFL Draft selection out of Louisiana-Lafayette, was a surprise preseason “scratch,” and head coach Kyle Shanahan later told reporters the rookie was dealing with a hip injury that would likely sideline him for multiple weeks.

It wasn’t a good development for the first-year pro, who was looking to carve out a roster spot for himself amid a fairly crowded crop of other San Francisco tailbacks. With runners Raheem Mostert and Trey Sermon all but guaranteed a spot on the 53-man roster, Mitchell had to contend with depth rushers like Wayne Gallman and JaMycal Hasty to stick around, and the former would probably have to beat out at least one of those two.

Instead, as was the case in the 49ers’ second preseason game of 2021 against the Los Angeles Chargers, Gallman and Hasty got the entire body of work on the ground.

And one could make the argument both made solid cases for inclusion on the 53-man roster, leaving Mitchell’s fate unknown.

49ers get Elijah Mitchell back at practice

After missing nearly two weeks with his injury, the Niners got some good news on the injury front as Mitchell was able to return to practice, according to The Athletic’s David Lombardi:

Granted, sixth-round rookies have a much more difficult hill to climb than day-one or day-two draft picks. And even if Mitchell stayed healthy, there was still going to be the chance he couldn’t beat out players like Gallman or Hasty.

This was compounded by Mitchell’s absence, too.

Yet San Francisco has to be intrigued by Mitchell’s Mostert-like speed, which was clocked at a 4.32 40-yard time during his pro day leading up to the draft. Also, Mitchell’s dual-threat capabilities as a pass catcher suggest, even only modestly, he might be a long-term replacement for Mostert, who’ll be a free agent in 2021.

So, it makes sense the 49ers would at least want to see what they have in the first-year tailback.

49ers must give Elijah Mitchell plenty of snaps vs. Raiders

While it’s totally contingent upon his health, Mitchell needs to play a lot during the Niners’ preseason finale against the visiting Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday.

Last week, Hasty received 19 carries and was the primary rusher when San Francisco was trying to run out the clock against the Chargers. In tandem, Gallman rushed for 72 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per attempt, also flashing some solid pass-blocking skills, too.

Read More: 3 players 49ers should be concerned about in 2021

Mitchell, despite flashing moments of sheer promise during training camp, has yet to test his mettle against opponents on game day. And even though preseason narratives are just that, the 49ers have yet to determine whether or not Mitchell should be a strong candidate to overtake Gallman and/or Hasty on the 53-man roster.

Unless the Niners are planning on keeping five running backs into the regular season, of course.

San Francisco and Las Vegas kick off on Sunday, Aug. 29 at 7 p.m. ET from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.

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