In what’s become a recurring theme in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s backfield, San Francisco 49ers running back Elijah Mitchell has suffered another knee injury. The second-year ball carrier has had a frustratingly unfortunate string of injuries since his rookie breakout last season, and the latest is likely to keep him out for an extended period of time. Just how long will Mitchell be out, and could he return this season?
How Long Is Elijah Mitchell Out?
Mitchell suffered an MCL sprain back in Week 1 of the 2022 NFL season, and he remained sidelined until his return for the team’s Week 10 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers. Just a few weeks later, Mitchell was once again forced from the action during San Francisco’s Week 12 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
Following the game, head coach Kyle Shanahan confirmed that Mitchell had sustained another MCL sprain, with this one likely to keep him out for six to eight weeks. That timeline will probably keep the dynamic sophomore runner out for the remainder of the regular season, though it appears that Mitchell will have a shot to return to the field should the 49ers make a postseason run.
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Should Mitchell fail to return through the rest of the regular season, he’ll end his second year in the league with 40 carries for 224 yards, giving him a whopping 5.6 yards per carry mark across four appearances. His usage in the passing game was slight in 2022, as he hauled in just three receptions on four targets for seven yards.
In his rookie season last year, Mitchell played in 11 games, missing six due to injury, and racked up 963 rushing yards and five scores on 207 carries (4.65 yards per carry) while tallying 137 receiving yards and one additional touchdown on 19 receptions and 20 targets.
Mitchell’s Return Date
Mitchell’s six-to-eight-week injury timeline gives him an outside shot to return for San Francisco’s regular-season finale against the Arizona Cardinals on January 8th. More likely, especially given the repetitive nature of his knee injuries, he’ll be activated for a Wild Card or Divisional Round contest if the 49ers make it that far in a playoff push.
Should the 49ers place Mitchell on injured reserve, he’d be eligible to return to the active roster despite having already been on the list once this season. The NFL altered its rules for the 2022 season to allow a player to return a maximum of two times from injured reserve. Prior iterations of the rule only allowed just one such return per player.
In the meantime, San Francisco will have star running back Christian McCaffrey, who himself is battling a more minor knee injury, to hold down the fort at the running back position.
Rookies Tyrion Davis-Price and Jordan Mason will back up McCaffrey, along with anyone else the team chooses to add at the position over the coming weeks. Veteran RB Tevin Coleman, who has plenty of familiarity with Shanahan, is on the team’s practice squad and could be called up for extra depth.