49ers running back Elijah Mitchell suffered a knee injury in the first half of Sunday's season opener against the Bears and was ruled out shortly thereafter. This latest injury raises a lot of questions about both his availability moving forward and the 49ers backfield, though the severity of the injury is not yet known at this point.
Mitchell had knee surgery in the offseason, but at this point, it's hard to know whether this injury is related to that. However, Mitchell has had a ton of trouble staying healthy so far in his brief NFL career, having missed six games in his rookie season – and he missed most of training camp this season with a hamstring injury. He couldn't even make it through a half of football to open the season, and while the field conditions in Chicago may have played a part, at this point, you have to wonder whether he's capable of handling the role the 49ers want from him, even if this ends up being a short-term injury – we don't know one way or the other in that regard.
This raises the question of what the 49ers might do at running back moving forward. We know Deebo Samuel is going to have a role in the running game, though it's unlikely he'll be used as a "true" lead back. Jeff Wilson stepped in for Mitchell, and he'll likely get an opportunity with Mitchell sidelined. However, Wilson has had his own trouble staying healthy, missing time last season after knee surgery, and he hasn't been as effective as Mitchell in his time in the 49ers offense, averaging 4.2 yards per attempt over 298 career carries.
Still, this is an offense that consistently makes whoever the lead back is look good, and that included Wilson at times last season – he had at least 14 PPR points in two of his four starts filling in for Mitchell in 2021. He only had one game with more than 56 yards, but he scored two touchdowns and had six catches, and could be a low-end RB2 if Mitchell has to miss time. Wilson finished Sunday's game with 22 yards on nine carries while adding a couple of catches for 8 yards.
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But there might be some other options on this offense if Mitchell is out long-term. The question is whether that is more likely to be undrafted free agent Jordan Mason, who was active Sunday but didn't have an offensive touch, or if third-rounder Tyrion Davis-Price might have a role after being inactive for Week 1. You would think Mason might be first in line because he was active and Davis-Price wasn't, but that could have just been because of something Mason brings in special teams that Davis-Price doesn't; Mason's lack of a role would seem to suggest there is a path there for Davis-Price.
Both Mason and Davis-Price bring a different element to the offense than the backs who have historically thrived in this 49ers offense. Those backs have been more like Mitchell – smaller and lightning fast, able to hit the hole and create chunks of yards in the 49ers outside zone offense. The 49ers have talked about wanting to have that different element, but it's telling that neither Mason nor Davis-Price was in the top two of the hierarchy – and the 49ers also waived the similarly-skilled Trey Sermon before the season.
Which is all to say, Wilson is probably the lead back in the 49ers offense if Mitchell has to miss time. He fits the mold and has had some success as the lead back before, and he'll likely split time with Samuel in the backfield – with Samuel especially involved near the goal line. That limits the upside in this offense – Trey Lance's mobility will also be a factor near the end zone – but Wilson could be a starting-caliber Fantasy option if he gets a chance to be the lead back for the 49ers, albeit more as a low-end RB2 than anything else.
Wilson figures to be of the primary targets on waivers for Fantasy Football heading into Week 2, but Mason will also be worth a low-dollar bid in FAAB just in case the 49ers decide to give him more opportunities with Mitchell hurt. But, in all likelihood, this is going to be a multi-pronged approach, and no back will be as valuable as Mitchell could have been, so hopefully, this latest injury doesn't keep him sidelined too long.