Mitchell's 49ers rookie rushing record deserves recognition


Elijah Mitchell's improbable rookie season turned into a historic one Sunday during the 49ers' 23-7 win against the Houston Texans. 

After missing the previous three weeks to a knee injury, Mitchell returned to the 49ers' backfield with a bang. He rushed for a game-high 119 yards on 21 carries. Mitchell also had two receptions for 11 yards, including an 8-yard TD catch thrown by fellow rookie Trey Lance to give the 49ers the lead in the third quarter.

But it was his ability on the ground that made the biggest difference for Kyle Shanahan's offense and gave him the best season ever by a 49ers rookie running back. 

Mitchell now has 878 rushing yards, passing Vic Washington's rookie record of 811 in 1971. Ken Willard ran for 778 in 1965 and Roger Craig had 725 rushing yards in 1983. None did it in as few games. 

Washington played 14 games as a rookie, as did Willard. Craig played 16. Mitchell only has 10 games under his belt. 

"It was a hell of an accomplishment today," Shanahan said to reporters after the win. "They just told me right before we broke the team down that he set that record. I messed with him that it would've been a lot easier if he was here the last month."

Mitchell last played in Week 13 when he rushed for 66 yards and one touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks, one week after rushing for 133 yards and one TD against the Minnesota Vikings. He now has rushed for at least 100 yards five times this season. That makes him one of four running backs since 1990 to rush for at least 100 yards five times in their first 10 games played. 


The Faithful has become accustomed to Mitchell having big performances. It's easy to forget he wasn't supposed to be here. He wasn't just the 10th running back taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, he was the second taken by the 49ers. 

Shanahan traded up in the third round to take Ohio State's Trey Sermon. But it's Mitchell, taken in the sixth round out of Louisiana, who has been the star in San Francisco. That's after starter Raheem Mostert went down right away in the season opener, too. 

"In play three of this year, he had to replace our [starting back]," Shanahan said. "His first run for us was, I think, like play 30 vs. the Raiders in the last preseason game, and by play three vs. Detroit, he had to replace our captain and our starting running back.

"He's done a hell of a job throughout the whole year of that.”

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On the third touch of his NFL career, Mitchell ran 38 yards for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions. He finished with 104 rushing yards in his first game as a Niner and hasn't looked back since. 

Now, everyone is looking up at him in the record books as his career has enjoyed a rocket of a start. Mitchell already has far exceeded expectations, and he doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon. 

The 23-year-old said he didn't know about the record going into the game, calling it a "surprise" when his teammates told him about it on the sidelines. And like any smart running back, young or old, he gave credit to all the right people. 

"I wouldn't be able to do that without my offensive linemen," Mitchell said. "All 11 blocking their butts off for me.”

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