Elijah Mitchell to make leap as a first-time Pro Bowler in 2022

Elijah Mitchell #25 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Elijah Mitchell #25 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

There are a number of 49ers who could reach their first Pro Bowl selection in 2022, but Elijah Mitchell might stand out as having the best chance.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has never truly had a top-end running back who has shouldered the load in his offense for back-to-back years.

Perhaps that changes entering 2022 with second-year pro Elijah Mitchell.

Mitchell, the sixth-round rookie who set a franchise record for a first-year player with 963 rush yards in 2021, appeared in only 11 games and hit that benchmark despite suffering a number of injuries.

Poised to play stronger and bigger this season, he won’t have to do it alone.

In something of a surprise, San Francisco grabbed another running back early in this year’s NFL Draft, LSU’s Tyrion Davis-Price. And while this might indicate fewer carries for Mitchell, the move might actually indicate a “less is more” approach.

Shanahan has never gone with a bell-cow back since taking over coaching duties in 2017. In 2019, when then-49ers tailback Raheem Mostert led the offense with 772 regular-season rush yards, it was actually fellow rusher Tevin Coleman who got the bulk of starts.

Perhaps this is Shanahan’s plan with a would-be tandem between Mitchell and Davis-Price, letting the latter test out opposing defenses early in games before Mitchell gets those home-run carries after halftime.

Don’t cross off Elijah Mitchell as a first-time Pro Bowl player in 2022

Additionally, Shanahan has never had a Pro Bowl halfback during his time with the Niners, and the running back-by-committee approach probably influenced this.

However, NFL.com’s Nick Shook is bullish on Mitchell being San Francisco’s best candidate to earn a Pro Bowl honor for the first time this season, having written:

"The 49ers enjoyed quality production from Mitchell as a rookie, with the former Louisiana star becoming San Francisco’s bell-cow back and averaging close to five yards per carry. Add in the experience gained from 2021 to a Kyle Shanahan-led offense that can be counted on to maximize running back potential, and you have a player who should take the next step. If that comes in 2022 — and if the 49ers replicate their success from last season — Mitchell’s name is going to become a popular one."

Related Story: Kyle Shanahan can get the most out of Elijah Mitchell

Despite the 49ers likely changing the offense to support and deploy quarterback Trey Lance this season, one can’t overlook the reality Shanahan’s offense is a run-first one. Plus, one of the best ways to ensure a young signal-caller’s success is to adequately deploy the ground game.

When healthy, Mitchell did more than enough to show that he can be impactful. It will, however, be a matter of him staying healthy throughout the bulk of the upcoming year.

Provided that happens, though, it’s certainly within reason to see Mitchell not only emerge as a 1,000-yard rusher but potentially even improve on his still-impressive 4.7-yard average per carry his rookie year.

Should that happen, it wouldn’t be shocking at all to see the former Ragin’ Cajun wind up being named a Pro Bowl player in 2022.

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