An ‘unbelievable, awesome’ combination exists in the 49ers’ backfield if Elijah Mitchell can stay healthy to complement Christian McCaffrey
SANTA CLARA — Elijah Mitchell appreciates what Christian McCaffrey brings to the 49ers, particularly on third-down situations.
“His third-down skills are crazy, the way he catches the ball, runs routes,” Mitchell said Thursday, following the 49ers’ final practice before returning to the field on Monday for Week 1 of the regular season.
Guess which area Mitchell has worked on improving this offseason. That’s right, third down, where he could either relieve McCaffrey or line up in the backfield while McCaffrey is a slot receiver.
“We feed off of each other,” Mitchell explained. “We can both catch the ball and run.” It’s incredible. It’s fantastic, it’s fantastic.”
Mitchell’s knee sprains kept him from forming a reliable 1-2 punch with McCaffrey last season. They only shared six of the final 14 games. Mitchell, on the other hand, averaged 4.7 yards per carry in them, the same figure he had in his rookie season of 2021, when he led the 49ers with 971 yards despite missing six games due to injuries.
Mitchell’s health issues persisted into this past training camp, which he missed due to a groin injury. However, he resumed practice this week and declared, “Ready to go for Week 1.”
“I’m trying not to be concerned. Mitchell explained his injury history: “I’m a physical player, so that’s what I do.” “In football, things happen. I’m on the verge of a good year and just running like I always do.”
Mitchell’s ability to break free down the middle for a third-down reception or pick up a blitzing linebacker in the pocket will reflect some of the work he’s put in this offseason and camp, as well as what he’s learned from McCaffrey. “Even before my rookie year, I’d watch Christian play and think, ‘He’s so elusive, it’s crazy.'” “He’s a fantastic player,” Mitchell said. “His pass game, how he is in third down, his blitz protection, the way he routes people up, it’s unbelievable.”
Mitchell’s workload could be reduced if the 49ers get the most out of McCaffrey. McCaffrey became only the third player in NFL history to have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season in 2019. Mitchell said he wouldn’t be surprised if McCaffrey achieves the same feat again this season, but added, “That’s one thing about Christian, he doesn’t really worry about the stats.” He simply goes out there and plays the game.”
To acquire the former Stanford star, the 49ers sent four draft picks to the Carolina Panthers last October. Mitchell was still recovering from a knee injury suffered in the season opener against Chicago.
If Mitchell and McCaffrey are both healthy on a star-studded offense led by Brock Purdy at quarterback, the 49ers could be a high-scoring unit beginning next Sunday at Pittsburgh.
“We have a lot of ability, and potential is a word that gets thrown around a lot,” McCaffrey said during training camp. “It all comes down to how well each play is executed.” We have a very strong offense.”