Why I'm Selling Elijah Mitchell in Dynasty
If you had the foresight to grab Elijah Mitchell ahead of last season, then he returned shocking value. And that’s why you should go ahead and sell him.
My focus here is his dynasty outlook, but I’m generally selling/fading the 49ers RB at his market price across formats. Why? Let us count the ways …
First of all, I’ll concede that there’s no huge risk to selecting Mitchell in best-ball drafts right now. Here are some current ADPs:
RB20, 54.9 overall on Underdog
RB20, 46.8 overall on Drafters
RB20, Pick 4.09 overall on FFPC
That’s just below how he performed as a fantasy rookie in 2021, when he finished RB16 in PPR points per game. So … what’s wrong with his valuation?
(See where Elijah Mitchell sits in our dynasty rankings.)
Well, my 1st issue with Mitchell is that he has never excited anyone as a prospect. Despite a monster finish to his high school career – 2,770 rushing yards and 42 TDs as a senior – Mitchell was just a 2-star recruit who chose Louisiana among scant options.
After working back from a freshman-year Lisfranc injury that required 2 surgeries, Mitchell spent the next 3 seasons splitting work with the likes of Raymond Calais and Trey Ragas. He performed decently, earning 2nd-team all-conference honors as a sophomore and junior. But Mitchell also trailed both Calais and Ragas in yards per carry in 2019.
As a senior – coming off consecutive all-conference bids – Mitchell edged Ragas by just 2.2 carries per game and tied sophomore Chris Smith for the backfield reception lead (16).
Mitchell then tested as a superior athlete, delivering a 96th-percentile speed score and 74th-percentile SPARQ-x. Yet he lingered on the board until the 6th round; the 10th RB drafted (and – as we all know – 2nd by the 49ers).
That matched my unenthusiastic outlook for him in our 2021 Dynasty Prospect Scouting Report series.
Of course, Mitchell went on to take over San Francisco’s backfield in Week 1 and finished the year 4th in the league in carries per game. He trailed only Derrick Henry, Jonathan Taylor and Dalvin Cook in that category.
How do you hate a rookie who does that in a Kyle Shanahan offense?
Well, let’s take a look back at previous lead rushers under Shanahan.
Behind Mitchell’s 18.8 carries per game in 2021, the next 2 top averages from 49ers RBs under Shanahan have been Carlos Hyde’s 15.0 in 2017 (Shanahan’s 1st season there) and Raheem Mostert’s 13.0 in 2020.
Overall, Shanahan has now spent 14 seasons as a HC or OC. Here are the top carries-per-game rates among those offenses, and where that top rusher’s carry average went the following year …
So maybe you’ve been thinking, “Hey, Mitchell is the next Alfred Morris.” If so, then you’re talking about a predecessor who peaked – both in performance and NFL production – as a rookie and never topped 17 receptions in a season. After Morris’ surprising debut, his carries per game and yards per rush fell each of the next 3 years. And it’s also worth noting that former 6th-round pick spent his final 3 college seasons dominating backfield work in the Sun Belt (the same conference in which Mitchell played).
Sure, it’s a big mark in Mitchell’s favor that he kept earning lead-back carries last season every time he returned from injury – and through the playoffs. But we also shouldn’t ignore that his initial opportunity came only after Trey Sermon disappointed in the preseason and Raheem Mostert went down in the opener. (We were all surprised at Sermon being a Week 1 inactive because he had spent August working clearly ahead of Mitchell.) And keep in mind that Jamycal Hasty beat Mitchell by 9 targets (29-20 in 11 games apiece).
To be clear, I agree that Mitchell is the strong best bet to retain top-back status in San Francisco this season. So let’s say he repeats the strong usage and solid efficiency of his rookie year. Does he really present much upside beyond that RB16 scoring average?
The 2021 usage plus his college usage tell us we shouldn’t expect much more receiving upside. And if Trey Lance indeed takes over at QB, we could see negative influence on available goal-line touches and target share.
Of course, Shanahan’s coaching history – along with Mitchell’s background – also says that betting on anything near 18.8 carries per game going forward is not safe.
Who’s taking those carries from Mitchell in 2022? I’m not sure. Maybe they draft someone significant (perhaps wrapped in a seemingly insignificant Round 6 package). Maybe they sign another RB. Maybe Sermon is ready to contribute more. Maybe Lance and Deebo Samuel siphon more carries than we’re hoping. Maybe Mitchell simply gets hurt.
There are multiple potential downside paths here, and I’m not sure the ceiling can climb much higher that what we’ve already seen (at least in terms of per-game fantasy scoring).
If I have Mitchell on dynasty rosters, I’m shopping him this offseason.