The 49ers should have an open-ended competition to back up Christian McCaffrey, and the winner might not be Elijah Mitchell.
Recently, CBS Sports ranked out the 10 best No. 2 running backs out there.
Kind of an interesting thought. Most of the time, especially for skill players, fans think of the top guy on the depth chart. Not the primary backup.
However, considering the attrition and wear that running backs endure, having a good-quality B-list rusher is always a smart move. After the San Francisco 49ers traded for All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey at the 2022 NFL trade deadline, fellow running back Elijah Mitchell was relegated into this spot whether he liked it or not.
Considering Mitchell's injury history over his two years in the league, though, he shouldn't have had much choice.
There's an X-factor in the mix, though. At least in checking out the depth chart ahead of training camp. And that's second-year pro Jordan Mason, the undrafted free agent from 2022 who not only carved out a role on the roster but who also convinced the Niners it'd be OK to part ways with a third-round NFL Draft pick, running back Trey Sermon, after just one uninspiring season.
Should Mason continue his ascent into the No. 2 role behind McCaffrey and over Mitchell?
There's logic to it.
He'll have to earn it, but Jordan Mason should take over 49ers' No. 2 running back spot from Elijah Mitchell
The best ability is availability, right? And that's something Mason has in his short career over Mitchell's shortish career.
Mason saw action in 16 regular-season games his rookie year, rushing for 258 yards and a touchdown on 48 carries, averaging 6 yards per rush in the process.
Mitchell, meanwhile, did set a franchise record for a rookie with 963 rush yards back in 2021, but he appeared in only 11 games that season. Vowing to be healthier his sophomore season, more injuries subsequently held him out to just five games played during the regular season.
Now, with 2023 training camp on the horizon, Mitchell already missed time during organized team activities because of an undisclosed injury.
With Mitchell out, Mason got the lion's share of backup duties behind McCaffrey. And, according to Sports Illustrated's Grant Cohn, Mason is making the most out of it all:
"Fully entrenched as the No. 2 running back behind Christian McCaffrey while Elijah Mitchell sits out with an undisclosed injury, which he does frequently. Mitchell can't stay healthy, but Mason can. He looks decidedly trimmer and faster than last year."
Mitchell does have that excellent speed. When healthy, he's explosive. No doubting that.
Yet Mitchell can't seem to stay off the injury report, and that's something Mason hasn't quite experienced yet. Tack on the subtle-but-impressive success Mason has had, it'd be a wise choice to look at him as the No. 2 option on the depth chart instead of Mitchell.