SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers did not go into the draft expecting to use two picks on running backs, but that’s the way it turned out.
And, right now, they're happy it did.
Through six practices, the 49ers have reason to be pleased with what they have seen from Trey Sermon and Elijah Mitchell.
Sermon was a third-round draft pick from Ohio State, and Mitchell was chosen in the sixth round from Louisiana. Mitchell was the best player on the board when the 49ers went on the clock with their final selection, and Sermon was deemed too good to pass up.
Sermon and Mitchell have grabbed chairs in the 49ers’ running backs room alongside Raheem Mostert, Wayne Gallman Jr. and JaMycal Hasty. Also, Jeff Wilson Jr. is expected back at midseason after undergoing offseason surgery to repair torn knee cartilage.
The 49ers traded up to select Sermon. He was thrust onto the field with the first unit during organized team activities when Mostert sat out with a knee condition. It did not take him long to get the hang of it.
“He's been smooth so far. He really has,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “That whole running back room, it’s kind of pick your poison. They all bring a little bit of a different flavor to it, but Trey's been impressive.
“The guy, even just in the facility, the time he puts in after everything when everyone's gone. He’s one of those last guys in and you know, you appreciate that in a young guy.”
Sermon is with his third team in three years. He transferred from Oklahoma to Ohio State for a senior season highlighted with a 331-yard rushing performance against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game.
“He exudes a quiet confidence,” 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk said of Sermon. “He’s been shoved into a lot of reps with the first team right away with Jeff going down and Raheem missing a few practices during OTAs, and he’s handled it really well.
“He’s intelligent, just very calm, the game is not too big for him, and you can sense that.”
While Sermon is more of a first- and second-down back, Mitchell is a speedster who could work himself into a role as a third-down back due to his pass-catching skills. Mitchell had five receptions in the 49ers’ first six practices to lead all running backs.
Each of the 49ers’ running backs bring different elements to the offense to complement Mostert, the presumptive starter.
“It’s one of those things where I’ve been through this whole system and I’ve seen a multitude of running backs come in and out, and being able to provide and do things that are not the best suited for me,” Mostert said. “But I’m also able to do the things that’s not the best suited for them.”
In the four years with Shanahan as coach, the 49ers had a different leading rusher each season — from Carlos Hyde to Matt Breida to Mostert to Wilson.
Sermon and Mitchell may have their chances down the line to fit into that group. Juszczyk noted that both rookies are adapting quickly and doing all the required work behind the scenes.
“There’s a lot of talent there and I think those guys can complement each other, and I think they can complement Raheem’s running style,” Juszczyk said. “They each bring a little something different to the table. I think we have a really good group there.”