Elijah Mithcell already has drawn comparisons to Adrian Peterson early in his NFL career, but it's another legendary running back the 49ers rookie looked up to in his youth.
"One guy that I watched [play] football, being a running back -- Barry Sanders," Mitchell said on "The Rich Eisen Show," which airs at 9 a.m. ET Monday-Friday on Peacock (h/t 49ersWebzone). "That is an awesome running back."
Mitchell never got a chance to watch Sanders live as the Detroit Lions star retired the year Mitchell was born, but he watched plenty of Sanders film as a young back.
"My high school coach, Coach [David Comeaux], he used to always harp on me about that," Mitchell said. "He showed me film of him, and ever since then, I've just been watching his highlights and stuff. Man, just the way he moves and makes people miss, that's just something I want to do, and something that I wanted to do. So, that was the guy that I watched."
Mitchell has been a revelation for the 49ers this season. With Raheem Mostert going down in Week 1, the Louisiana product assumed the lead back role and has shown why coach Kyle Shanahan targeted him late in the 2021 NFL Draft.
In eight games, Mitchell has rushed for 693 yards and four touchdowns while carrying a heavy load in Shanahan's run-first offense.
“It’s the style that he plays with,” Shanahan said of Mitchell after the 49ers' win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. “He runs to the right hole. We know he’s talented but it’s what’s inside of him. He is gritty and competes for every single yard. I told him it makes it easier for me to call runs.”
The 49ers found a draft steal in Mitchell, who certainly picked up a thing or two from his time watching Sanders dice up NFL defenses.