If sixth-round pick Elijah Mitchell lives up to his lofty aspirations, the 49ers can rectify one of their earliest draft mistakes under coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch.
Let's rewind to 2017. The 49ers had just acquired a haul of draft picks from the Chicago Bears to move down a spot to No. 3, all so the Bears could select Mitchell Trubisky as their franchise quarterback.
Hey, stop laughing! You're supposed to put yourself in your 2017 shoes, remember?
(If you thought that pick was poor at the time, you're welcome to keep laughing.)
Anyway, one of those picks was a third-rounder (No. 67 overall). The New Orleans Saints traded a 2018 second-round pick and a 2017 seventh to the 49ers in exchange for No. 67.
The Saints then drafted running back Alvin Kamara. The 49ers used the Saints' second in a trade the following year with the Washington Football Team in order to select wide receiver Dante Pettis, whom the 49ers cut this past season.
You know Kamara, right? The scorer of 58 rushing and receiving touchdowns in his first 60 games? The four-time Pro Bowl running back who has: never caught fewer than 81 passes in a season, more yards from scrimmage since 2017 than all but one player and skills tailor-made for Shanahan's offense?
Yes, that Alvin Kamara. Mitchell thinks he has one asset in common with the Saints star.
"One player I always told coaches [I admired is] Alvin Kamara," Mitchell said Saturday in a video conference with reporters after the 49ers drafted him No. 194 overall. "Like I say, he can catch the ball out of the backfield. He can make people miss. He can run in between [the tackles]. He could do it all. I find myself being able to do that, and that's the person I looked up to in the league."
Whereas Kamara had no fewer than 34 receptions in his two seasons at Tennessee, Mitchell topped out at 20 catches as a sophomore in 2018. He was very effective that season, with 349 receiving yards (17.5 per reception) and three touchdowns. In all, Mitchell averaged 12.4 yards per reception from his sophomore year onward.
The 49ers have sought a running back with similar skills since Shanahan and Lynch's arrival. They thought Jerick McKinnon would be that back when he signed as a free agent in 2018, but a series of injuries prevented "Jet" from truly taking off with the Niners.
Carlos Hyde caught 59 passes in Shanahan's first season with San Francisco, but only one running back has caught 30-plus passes in a season since then (McKinnon, 33 in 2020). Hyde is the only 49ers running back to accumulate 350 receiving yards in a season under Shanahan.
While fullback Kyle Juszczyk and even wide receiver Deebo Samuel are effective receiving options out of the backfield, a consistent pass-catching running back is something the 49ers have lacked over the last four seasons.
It'd be foolish to expect Mitchell, a sixth-round pick from a small school, to have a Kamara-like impact on the 49ers' offense. The 49ers also might never forget that they, effectively, "passed" on Kamara by trading the pick the Saints ultimately used to select him.
But if he can provide an approximation of Kamara's skills, Mitchell can carve a niche in the 49ers' suddenly crowded backfield.
"That's part of my game, catching the ball out of the backfield [and] making people miss," Mitchell said. "I'm excited [for] what's in store for me, and I can't wait."