SANTA CLARA -- Despite sitting out a large portion of training camp and the first two exhibition games with an adductor injury, running back Elijah Mitchell made a surprising move up the 49ers’ depth chart to open the season.
Mitchell, a sixth-round draft pick from Louisiana at Lafayette, surpassed third-round pick Trey Sermon of Ohio State because of the decisiveness with which he hits the holes.
Mitchell heads into the 49ers’ Week 7 game against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night as the team’s starting running back and leading rusher with 189 yards and a touchdown on 45 carries (4.2-yard average) despite missing two games with an AC joint shoulder sprain.
“I know I can be better and I will be better,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell appeared to be in a battle for a roster spot when training camp opened. With Jeff Wilson expected to be out until late-November with a knee injury, Mitchell won the backup job behind Raheem Mostert, beating out Sermon, JaMycal Hasty and veteran Wayne Gallman.
Mostert last week underwent season-ending knee surgery, opening the door for Mitchell to remain the starter for the duration of his rookie season.
“Whenever you get an opportunity like this, you got to take it and run with it,” Mitchell said. “So I always had that mindset, even if I wasn’t a starter or anything, just keep working. And keep working until my name’s called.”
Mitchell had to wait until the No. 194 overall pick to hear his name called on the third day of the draft.
Mitchell has elite speed, running a 4.33 seconds at his pro day, according to NextGen Stats. And 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said he likes Mitchell’s no-nonsense approach, noting that he usually finishes his runs with his shoulders lowered and moving forward.
But Mitchell sees room for improvement and believes he can do a better job of finishing his runs. He has seen times this season when he could have picked up more yards with better decision-making.
“Since I’ve been playing, I go back and watch film and say, ‘Man, if I would have made this cut or bounced it outside, it could have been a big play.’ Really, I just try to go into every week just trying to fix that and really just playing ball,” Mitchell said.
“But It makes me sick to my stomach when I see something like that, so I just try every week to just keep going and make sure I make the right cut next time.”