Elijah Mitchell is a 200-pound 49ers running back who tallied 1,100 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns as a rookie two years ago, so he is not an easy man to overlook. Yet, somehow, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan managed to call his way through a 60-minute football game, including 57 offensive plays, without noticing that he had not inserted Mitchell into the game.
Not at all. Mitchell was a healthy DNP in Sunday’s win over the Rams, as Christian McCaffrey played all of the 49ers’ snaps. That, Shanahan said, was not how the game was meant to go.
“Yeah, we’ve definitely got to get Elijah in there more and do better with our rotation than we did yesterday,” Shanahan said per the Niners Nation site. “That wasn’t the plan going in. It just ended up that way and I’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
McCaffrey wound up with 20 carries for 116 yards, plus three catches for 19 yards. The numbers were solid for McCaffrey, but 51 of those running yards came on one play in the first quarter—for the most part, he was grinding out short gains against a good Rams defense.
McCaffrey Leads the NFL in Carries, Yards
The numbers on McCaffrey through two games belie what the expectations were for him and the 49ers entering the season. It was less than three weeks ago, remember, that ESPN insider Dan Graziano was writing that the 49ers were planning to be more protective of the oft-injury McCaffrey in 2023.
Here’s how Graziano put it:
“San Francisco will still take McCaffrey off the field more than Carolina did and use Elijah Mitchell and/or Tyrion Davis-Price in spots, because the Niners know McCaffrey’s injury history and want to avoid overloading him. But the efficiency he should be able to attain in a full season in Kyle Shanahan’s system could be enough to propel McCaffrey to new career-best numbers.”
Through two games, the McCaffrey numbers do not resembles stats one would expect for a guy whom the team is hoping to avoid overloading. McCaffrey has 42 carries (most in the NFL) and 268 rushing yards (also most in the NFL). Mitchell has all of five carries for 10 yards on the season and Davis-Price does not have a carry to his credit.
It’s probably a good idea to avoid overloading McCaffrey. Shanahan should feel free to do so sooner rather than later.
‘ I Definitely Should Have Noticed’
Shanahan was asked whether there are assistant coaches who are responsible for ensuring the team is rotating its players properly, or whether he, as the head coach, does that. The answer: Someone else should be monitoring McCaffrey’s carries, but Shanahan should have noticed something was awry.
“No, usually calling plays, you can ask for guys specifically on certain plays, as a play caller,” Shanahan said. “But no, you’re not keeping guys fresh and rotating and doing stuff like that. Position coaches do that. For him not to get in, I definitely should have noticed and asked for him.”
Expect the 49ers to go with more Mitchell in Week 3, though, with the team playing on a short schedule, hosting the Giants on Thursday night. The Giants are among the worst run defenses going, giving up 273 yards in the first two weeks, 26th in the league. The Giants yield 4.6 yards per carry, 24th in the NFL—a good time to pound the run game and give Mitchell some opportunities.
Sean Deveney is a veteran sports reporter covering the NBA and NFL for Heavy.com. He has written for Heavy since 2019 and has more than two decades of experience covering the NBA, including 17 years as the lead NBA reporter for the Sporting News. Deveney is the author of 7 nonfiction books, including “Fun City,” “Before Wrigley became Wrigley,” and “Facing Michael Jordan.” More about Sean Deveney