The 49ers have completed their preseason schedule. Now come the tough decisions.
San Francisco must name its 53-man roster for the 2021 season by 1 p.m. (Pacific) on Tuesday afternoon. The vast majority of that roster has already been decided, but there's a handful of spots that coach Kyle Shanahan, general manager John Lynch and Co. likely will be debating all the way up until the deadline.
One of those spots is at running back, where the 49ers figure to keep four players on the 53. Raheem Mostert and rookie Trey Sermon are locks to make it, meaning one of Wayne Gallman, rookie Elijah Mitchell and JaMychal Hasty is going to be the odd man out.
Mitchell made his preseason debut in the 49ers' 34-10 win over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday, and flashed the blazing speed that prompted San Francisco to select him in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. He rushed six times for 24 yards and also made an impact on special teams. He got the tackle on the opening kickoff, and returned two kickoffs, including one for 45 yards.
Shanahan liked what he saw out of the rookie in his first taste of NFL game action.
"I thought he looked real good, he started out having a real good camp for us at the beginning of training camp," Shanahan said of Mitchell after the win. "And then he's been out here the last two weeks, and we knew this would be a big week for him, he was starting to feel better toward the end of LA, he had two-and-a-half real good days of practice, and we wanted to make sure to get him in the game. You never know about runners, especially rookies and stuff until they get in that game, and he looked the same way in the game that he did in practice. So I was real happy with Elijah."
Mitchell's ability as a kick returner might give him a leg up on the competition for one of those final two running back spots. That said, Gallman (who rushed 13 times for 60 yards against the Raiders) and Hasty (who rushed six times for 55 yards and two scores) both had impressive preseasons. That hasn't made the decision any easier for the coaching staff.
"It's real challenging," Shanahan explained, "I mean every guy that you guys have seen out there has ran like an NFL back, and those guys have done a great job, they've been great people throughout the whole thing, I know they're all pulling for each other too, they're definitely making our job harder."
All of San Francisco's running backs have proven themselves worthy of being on an NFL roster. But, at least initially, not all of them will be on the 49ers'.