Elijah Mitchell opened the season as the 49ers’ starting running back, but an MCL sprain changed his second-year path. After returning to complement trade acquisition Christian McCaffrey, Mitchell will be shut down because of an MCL again.
The 49ers are expecting to be without Mitchell for a six- to eight-week stretch because of another MCL sprain, Kyle Shanahan said Monday. This depleted a backfield already affected by the 49ers trading Mitchell’s initial replacement — Jeff Wilson — to the Dolphins on deadline day. Mitchell damaged his other MCL, per The Athletic’s Matt Barrows, not the one he hurt in September.
Despite being a sixth-round pick, Mitchell emerged as San Francisco’s lead back last season. The Louisiana product amassed 963 rushing yards in just 11 games, but injuries have continually held back the mid-major alum. While other issues led to Mitchell’s six missed games as a rookie, he underwent knee surgery this offseason. His ensuing bouts of knee trouble obviously provide a concern about his long-term viability. The 49ers will need to make another backfield adjustment going forward.
San Francisco has assembled an interesting collection of skill-position players, adding McCaffrey to its George Kittle–Deebo Samuel duo. But these three have each run into extensive injury trouble, injecting doubt about their availability for the next two months. Mitchell represented high-end insurance for McCaffrey and played well upon return from his initial MCL sprain, but he can be labeled an injury-prone player at this point as well. The 49ers can turn back to third-round rookie Tyrion Davis-Price as a CMC complement. The LSU product’s role stands to grow going forward, with Wilson now the Dolphins’ starter post-trade.
The 49ers may also have a decision to make regarding their injured reserve list. The NFL’s offseason IR adjustment would allow for Mitchell to be placed on IR and return again, but the league also capped the number of players who can be activated from teams’ IR, PUP and NFI lists at eight. The 49ers lead the league with seven such activations, and starting defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw remains on IR. If Mitchell returns to IR, only one of these two players can be activated this season. The 49ers are planning to place Mitchell back on IR, Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com tweets, putting this either/or scenario into play. Mitchell’s timetable indicates the team would need to hold its final IR activation until the postseason, inserting some roster-related risk into the surging 49ers’ equation.
Arik Armstead has missed most of the 49ers’ season but is not on IR; Shanahan provided more positive injury news regarding the longtime San Francisco defensive lineman. Armstead is expected to return to practice Wednesday, Wagoner tweets. The veteran D-tackle has been out since Week 4 with a hairline fibula fracture. The 49ers have maintained their No. 1 defensive ranking for weeks without Armstead and others in the picture. They stand to receive a boost when the eighth-year defender returns to action.