Fantasy football: 49ers RB Elijah Mitchell is a tricky target for owners

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

49ers running back Elijah Mitchell turned into a great fantasy football waiver add early in 2021, yet owners targeting him this year must proceed with caution.

Fantasy football owners who landed former San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert during their 2021 draft probably understood the need to have a handcuff player on the Niners roster as a backup, given Mostert’s lengthy injury history.

Most probably went with the Niners’ then-rookie tailback Trey Sermon, not the team’s sixth-round NFL Draft choice, Elijah Mitchell.

Yet it was Mitchell who got the call when Mostert suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 1, not Sermon, the latter rushing a mere 167 yards and for one touchdown, while Mitchell set a franchise record for a rookie with 963 rush yards over 11 games played.

Simply put, for those who grabbed Mitchell on the fantasy football waiver wire, he was an absolute steal.

Things won’t pan out this way again, though, as Mitchell is squarely on fantasy owners’ radar. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, the former Louisiana tailback has an average draft position of 4.01 (Round 4, pick No. 1) in a 12-team, points-per-reception (PPR) format.

While nowhere near as high as the elite-level running backs like the Tennessee Titans’ Derrick Henry, the Indianapolis Colts’ Jonathan Taylor or the Carolina Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey, Mitchell is poised to lock in as a RB2 in even shallower leagues.

Sounds like a smart bet to capitalize on Mitchell’s ascent, right?

Maybe. But not so fast.

Elijah Mitchell carries both fantasy football promise and risk entering 2022

Mitchell was a fantasy hidden-gem darling his rookie season, but it’s impossible to overlook the fact he missed six regular-season games.

Sports Illustrated’s Shawn Childs went into further detail:

"When on the field for his 11 games during the regular season, he delivered five games with over 100 yards rushing (19/104/1, 18/107/1, 18/137/1, 27/133/1, 21/119) with a limited role in the passing game (19/137/1). San Francisco gave him at least 18 touches in 11 of his 14 matchups (including the playoffs).Unfortunately, he missed six games with rib, finger, concussion and knee issues. Mitchell had surgery on his knee after the season."

While Mitchell should be ready to go by Week 1, there are going to be lingering concerns about his health.

This cuts both ways, of course. Had he been able to play all 17 games last year and managed his same rushing prowess, he would have netted well above 1,400 rush yards in 2021. ESPN projects Mitchell to have 199.68 standard-scoring points this year, up from the 165.0 actual he boasted a season ago.

The fact he missed time with injuries, though, means fantasy owners will need to think about a handcuff for Mitchell this season.

Who should fantasy football owners target as an Elijah Mitchell handcuff?

It’s probably safe to relegate Sermon to the backwaters of fantasy scrapheaps. Sure, the 49ers aren’t ready to give up on the third-round pick just yet, but the fact they used yet another Round 3 pick on a running back this year, former LSU tailback Tyrion Davis-Price, suggests Sermon is entering 2022 at the tail end of the Niners’ depth chart.

Davis-Price is intriguing. Strong and physical, it’s actually reasonable to assume San Francisco starts the rookie over Mitchell, testing out defenses and wearing them down before allowing Mitchell to capitalize with his speed and explosiveness later in games.

And if Mitchell is lost to injury for any length of time, one might figure Davis-Price would be a primary beneficiary.

Read More: Elijah Mitchell poised to be a first-time Pro Bowler in 2022

However, the real meat of any fantasy football running back production is in the end zone, and Mitchell had a combined six touchdowns in 2021, five on the ground and one through the air.

Davis-Price, who doesn’t offer much as a receiver, might nevertheless be a short-yardage and goal-line solution, potentially pointing towards taking away some of those red-zone carries where most of the top-tier running backs in fantasy drafts still get touches.

This is another area in which Mitchell owners have to be cautious, especially if they witness the 49ers going with someone like Davis-Price close to the goal line.

Of course, starting them both isn’t a viable option in fantasy leagues, but using Davis-Price as a Mitchell handcuff is probably still a smart idea.

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