SEPTEMBER 12: The injury could cost Mitchell a significant chunk of his second season. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweets that Mitchell is expected to miss “some time” as a result of the injury, and ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter adds (via Twitter) that timetable will likely land in the two-month range.
MCL sprains typically do not produce this long of an absence, and Mitchell battled through multiple injuries to return to the field fairly quickly last season. But Kyle Shanahan has since confirmed an eight-week absence is slated, via The Athletic’s Matt Barrows (on Twitter). Wilson, who entered the season as San Francisco’s clear-cut No. 2 back, is expected to replace Mitchell as the starter. Despite the lengthy timetable, Shanahan said Mitchell is not expected to need surgery.
SEPTEMBER 11: In the second quarter of their season opener, the 49ers’ running back woes from the past few years continued as starter Elijah Mitchell left the field with a knee injury, according to Field Yates of ESPN. This was certainly not the news that San Francisco needed today, in a game that needed it to be able to run the ball well, but, with Mitchell’s injury history, the news is even more concerning for the rest of the season.
Mitchell missed six games last year and had knee surgery in the offseason that forced him to miss all of the team’s spring practices. When asked about the status moving forward for Mitchell, head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters (David Bonilla of 49ers Web Zone), “I’m not sure. I know they said they thought he had a chance to come back and then they ruled him out about a quarter later, so I’m not sure yet.”
With rookie third-round pick Tyrion Davis-Price designated as “out” going into the game, San Francisco had two healthy backs remaining, Jeff Wilson, who filled in as RB1 when Mitchell was sidelined last year, and undrafted rookie Jordan Mason.
When Mitchell exited the game, Wilson was the only running back to take any carries for the offense, but he was not the only rusher. Obviously, quarterback Trey Lance had his fair share of scrambles, as expected, but after Wilson’s nine carries for 22 yards, Deebo Samuel continued his hybrid role with eight carries for 52 yards while running in the team’s only touchdown of the day. Third-year receiver Brandon Aiyuk also recorded a carry.
The lack of early news on Mitchell’s outlook may be good news, but, considering his recent surgery and injury-history from last year, a knee injury was the last thing the 49ers wanted to see. Fortunately, San Francisco has plenty of experience from recent seasons in putting together a strong rushing attack despite injuries, and the 49ers’ offense is well-designed to let key offensive players like Lance and Samuel supplement their running game when needed.