The past few years in San Francisco have seen a procession of running back injuries. One such player who has been at the center of that issue the past two years is third-year back Elijah Mitchell. Unfortunately, Mitchell isn’t in quite in the clear going into Year 3 for the 49ers. According to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, Mitchell has suffered an abductor strain that will hold him out for a bit.
Injuries have been a bit of an issue for Mitchell to start his career. While playing as an injury replacement in his rookie year for Raheem Mostert, Mitchell was forced to miss six games due to injury himself. Things went further downhill in his sophomore season as he suffered a sprained MCL in the first game of the season. He was able to return in mid-November, but by the time he was back, Christian McCaffrey had arrived and staked his claim atop the depth chart. Mitchell would only play in five games last year.
Now, for the first time in his career, Mitchell will not be expected to carry the weight at running back. With McCaffrey firmly leading the group, Mitchell should be able to take his time coming back from the strain. Head coach Kyle Shanahan told the media that Mitchell should be back “in a week.” While that’s an encouraging timeline to hear, Mitchell’s injury history warrants a bit of cautious optimism from fans.
Here are a few other injury updates from around the league:
We saw Saints linebacker Andrew Dowellland on injured reserve earlier this week. Thanks to Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.Football, we now know that he was placed on the injured list after suffering a torn ACL. After only missing one game in the past two seasons, Dowell is now likely to miss the entire 2023 season.
Another player who unfortunately went down with a torn ACL this week is Vikings defensive lineman James Lynch, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. Lynch was a tied for the fourth-most snaps on the defensive line for Minnesota last year, a defensive line that is also playing withoutDalvin Tomlinson this year. Lynch has missed games in each year of his young career, but 2023 will see him miss the entire season.
After only two years in the league, Seahawks edge rusher Darrell Taylor has already established himself as a main contributor on the Seattle defense with 16.0 sacks over his first two seasons. According to Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times, Taylor showed up to practice on Thursday with his left arm in a sling. Head coach Pete Carroll informed the media that he was dealing with a sprained shoulder. A recovery timeline was not provided.
The Seahawks held a scrimmage tonight and saw two rookies sustain injuries in the simulated game. The team’s injury woes in the running backs room continue as rookie seventh-round pick Kenny McIntosh suffered what Carroll is calling a sprained knee, according to Brady Henderson of ESPN. Luckily, they will be getting another rookie rusher back, as Carroll told the media that second-round rookie Zach Charbonnet will return “full-go” following the team’s off day tomorrow. The other rookie to go down with an injury was undrafted cornerback Andrew Whitaker. The diagnosis is unclear, but Whitaker was carted off the field after sustaining an injury in the contest, according to Condotta.
Jets offensive tackle Mekhi Becton missed the entire 2022 season after suffering an avulsion fracture in his right kneecap. The veteran made his return to the field in last night’s Hall of Fame game but left after only playing seven snaps. He reported today that, while he didn’t feel like there was any setback with his surgically repaired knee, he decided to be overly cautious with playing on turf, according to Andy Vasquez of NJ.com. In recent years, many non-contact injuries have been attributed to turf fields around the league. With this in mind, Becton got a good sense of where his knee was at and decided to work the rest out in practice. The team plans to test him more as camp progresses and the season draws nearer.
All four players, to varying degrees, have shown an ability to produce in the passing game at either the NFL or college levels. That could lead to a notable increase in passing plays out of the backfield this season, ESPN’s Brady Henderson notes. Charbonnet (a second-round selection) and McIntosh (seventh round) in particular helped their draft stock with notable pass-catching seasons in 2022.
Walker stands to serve as the undisputed starter after he finished second in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting. His success made it little surprise when Rashaad Penny and Travis Homer departed in free agency, creating the vacancies filled by Charbonnet and McIntosh. Their roles will likely involve signficant pass-catching duties, especially if the Seahawks elect to use a committee approach.
“Yeah, they’re catchers, for sure,” head coach Pete Carroll said of Seattle’s RB room as a whole. “Kenny is a really natural athlete, you can just see it in everything that he does. Zach does everything well… He’s already shown his understanding and his instincts about blocking in the passing game – not the physical side of it, but his assignments and his footwork and stuff like that. We’ve just got to throw them out there and start handing the ball to them, see what happens and see who produces and all.”
As his last remark confirms, little is known at this point with respect to the pecking order behind Walker on the depth chart. Heavy involvement in the passing game out of the backfield could help Seattle’s rookies see the field right away, though the team’s receiver trio of D.K. Metcalf, Tyler Lockettand first-rounderJaxon Smith-Njigbafigures to limit the amount of targets available at the RB position.
As Henderson notes, Carroll has not traditionally favored using Seattle’s backs prominently in the passing game. Given the skillsets available to him now, however, it would come as little surprise if that philosophy shifted in 2023 and the years immediately following this season.
The Seahawks were able to clear out some space in their running backs room this offseason as they allowed Rashaad Penny and Travis Homer to depart for Philadelphia and Chicago, respectively, in free agency. Tony Jones signed with the Broncos and fellow practice squad running backs Godwin Igwebuike and Wayne Gallman both still sit on the free agent market after their contracts with the team expired, leaving only Kenneth Walker and DeeJay Dallas on the roster leading up to the draft.
Seattle drafted two rookies to join Walker and Dallas and now face yet another season in which they may be rostering four or more running backs. In fact, Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times is fairly sure that four backs will be retained on the 53-man roster with the likely question being who takes that fourth spot.
Walker, who finished second in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting with an impressive debut outing, is certain to return as the team’s lead back. After amassing 1,050 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in 11 starts, Walker will be looking to take the next step in his sophomore season.
Dallas returns for the final year of his rookie contract. He’s never gotten to display much as a backup running back, usually splitting touches with Homer and Penny, not to mention Chris Carson, Alex Collins, and Carlos Hyde in previous years, but this may be the year that Dallas gets to breakout out as a true primary backup behind Walker. Even if the two rookies prevent him from establishing a role as RB2, Dallas’s roster spot should be safe. Over his three years in Seattle, Dallas has been a dedicated special teams contributor and a reliable returner of both punts and kickoffs.
The Seahawks used a second-round selection, their fourth pick in the first two rounds, to select Zach Charbonnet out of UCLA. Charbonnet projects as the most likely option to unseat Dallas as the second back behind Walker. After a strong freshman season at Michigan that saw him rush for 726 yards and 11 touchdowns, Charbonnet lost carries as a sophomore to Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum, leading to a transfer to the west coast. Charbonnet responded to losing his job in Ann Arbor by dominating the Pac-12, rushing for 2,496 yards and 27 touchdowns over two seasons with the Bruins. He brings a bit more size to the position than Walker or Dallas yet still provides a surprising agility to go along with great vision and reliable pass-catching.
Kenny McIntosh was the team’s final draft pick of 2023 in the seventh round. As a senior at Georgia last year, McIntosh finally got an opportunity to perform as the lead back after the NFL departures of James Cook and Zamir White. McIntosh delivered with 829 rushing yards for 10 touchdowns, but he truly thrived as a receiving back, catching 43 passes for 505 yards and two more touchdowns in 2022. Walker, Dallas, and Charbonnet all have some pass-catching ability, but McIntosh’s specialty in the area may be enough to secure him a roster spot as a rookie. McIntosh has similar size to Charbonnet and has more experience as a committee back with a receiving role from his time with the Bulldogs.
The only other back on the roster, after the team waived undrafted rookieChris Smith this week, is Bryant Koback, a previously undrafted running back who spent last season on the Vikings’ practice squad. Koback put up ridiculous numbers at Toledo, rushing for 4,026 yards and 45 touchdowns over his career as a Rocket. That total could’ve been even higher if Koback hadn’t been limited to six games in a COVID-shortened 2020 season. While Koback has a strong college resume, Condotta is under the impression that it will take a lot in order for him to unseat McIntosh as the fourth running back on the roster.
Therein lies the plan for Seattle in 2023. Walker should continue as the team’s lead back with either Dallas or Charbonnet taking over key backup duties. Dallas can also compete for pass-catching duties with the other rookie, McIntosh. And, unless Charbonnet and McIntosh make Dallas completely superfluous with strong special teams contributions of their own, Dallas should continue to be a core special teamer for the Seahawks. All this while Koback gives his best audition to prove he deserves a chance in the regular season.