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49ers camp battles: Elijah Mitchell is no longer alone on the run back

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For three consecutive seasons, the 49ers’ top players have been players who entered the NFL as undrafted free agents.

So it was a bit of a surprise in the 2021 NFL Draft when the 49ers invested a third-round pick in Ohio State running back Trey Sermon.

The 49ers then selected Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah Mitchell in the sixth round before using another third-round pick this year at LSU running back Ty Davis-Pryce.

The influx of young running backs over the past two drafts is creating some interesting competition in running backs as coach Kyle Shanahan appears determined to use more committee-based approaches.

Here’s how the competition stacks up:

Elijah Mitchell

When Raheem Mostert lost the season after carrying the ball twice in the 2021 season opener, the 49ers turned to Mitchell.

Mitchell had a strong rookie season with 963 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. He handled the ball 21 to 27 times in each of the last five regular season games he played.

But there are legitimate concerns about Mitchell’s longevity. He missed six games due to injury.

In the postseason, Mitchell’s average dropped to 3.1 yards per try. He had his knee “cleaned up” after a season in which he missed time with shoulder, rib, toe and head injuries.

Mitchell has proven he can be a very good three-down defenseman. The only question is whether he can withstand such a ruthless punishment.

trey sermon

Although the 49ers selected him in the third round, Sermon wasn’t ready to make his mark as a rookie. His most productive game came in Week 4 when he gained 89 yards on 19 rushes against the Seattle Seahawks.

Sermon was unable to adjust smoothly to the 49ers’ outer zone scheme. He was unexpectedly inactive in the first week as Mitchell quickly outclassed him on the depth chart.

Following an ankle injury sustained on special teams in Week 11 against the Minnesota Vikings, Sermon did not return to the field for any offensive snaps for the remainder of his rookie season.

The 49ers have shown a knack for finding unsung and undrafted runners. Sermon was someone they identified as a unique talent, which makes his inability to contribute as a rookie all the more puzzling.

And if the club had been really happy with Sermon’s development, they probably wouldn’t have felt the need to pick another runner in the third round a year later.

Ty Davis-Price

In selecting Davis-Price, the 49ers should have realized he had the talent to make an immediate difference.

Davis-Pryce has good size (6ft 1, 219lbs), athleticism and speed. He hasn’t proven himself to be a reliable pass catcher, but he has the skills to be a tough runner between first-down and second-down tackles.

He may also be the closest to the short guard that the 49ers have on their roster.

Davis-Price will compete with Sermon and Jeff Wilson Jr. to join Mitchell as one of the 49ers’ top two running backs.

Jeff Wilson Jr.

Wilson was out for the first half of the season a year ago after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. When he returned to fight, he clearly lacked explosive power and did not display his usual punitive running style.

He re-signed with the 49ers as a free agent and appeared much healthier during the team’s off-season program.

RELATED: 49ers camp battles: Who starts next to Ward safe?

In 2020, Wilson led the 49ers in rushing for 600 yards with a 4.8 rushing average and seven touchdowns. He is also the 49ers’ best off-the-field runner.

JaMikal Hastie

This season, Hastie faces the challenge of maintaining his role as the team’s third quarterback.

Hastie appeared in 11 games last season. He completed 16 times for 68 yards and landed. He also caught 23 of 29 passes for 157 yards.

Jordan Mason, an undrafted Georgia Tech rookie, will compete during training camp for a spot on the active roster or practice team.

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