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San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers Have Found Their “Bell-Cow” Running Back 

49ers running back Elijah Mitchell suffered a sprained MCL in Week One against Chicago and is likely out for another month. However, Jeff Wilson Jr. has done a phenomenal job as the number-one running back in Mitchell’s place.

49ers Jeff Wilson Jr USA Today

49ers running back Elijah Mitchell suffered a sprained MCL in Week One against Chicago and is likely out for another month. However, Jeff Wilson Jr. has done a phenomenal job as the number-one running back in Mitchell’s place.

Deja Vu With 49ers Running Back Injuries

The 49ers are in a similar situation to last year when they lost Raheem Mostert for the season in Week One against Detroit. A rookie, Elijah Mitchell had to step in as the top running back for the 2021 season. In relief of Mostert, Mitchell put together a solid season rushing for 963 yards, five touchdowns, and no fumbles. Additionally, he added 19 receptions for 137 yards and a touchdown in the passing game.

Mitchell was one of the many “saving graces” of the 2021 season as Kyle Shanahan needed a productive rushing attack with the lack of a passing game with Jimmy Garoppolo. Mitchell averaged 4.7 yards/carry, which is well above the NFL average. This year, however, Mitchell suffered an injury against Chicago and was ruled out for a minimum of eight weeks. 

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Jeff Wilson Jr. came to the 49ers as an undrafted free agent in 2018 from North Texas University. He had a great career and had staggering numbers. He compiled 567 rushing attempts, 3,204 yards, and 32 touchdowns. Wilson also added 70 receptions for 527 yards and two touchdowns. In 2017, he earned 2nd Team All-CUSA honors. 

The 49ers Love Drafting Running Backs

Over the past two seasons, San Francisco added more running backs to their roster than ever before. Since the 2021 NFL Draft, the 49ers have added four running backs, Trey Sermon, Elijah Mitchell, Ty Davis-Price and Jordan Mason. This is interesting because Jeff Wilson Jr. became the longest-tenured player in the position group. 

Many thought Wilson was going to be cut, however, the 49ers chose to cut their former third-round draft choice, Trey Sermon, instead. This was a tough decision to make, however, it paid off. 

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Jeff Wilson Jr. And His Production Thus Far

In Week Two, San Francisco featured two running backs, Jeff Wilson Jr and Ty Davis-Price, a rookie out of Louisiana State University. Unfortunately, Davis-Price went down with a high ankle sprain and has missed the last three games, leaving the job to Jeff Wilson Jr. exclusively.

In the last four games, Jeff Wilson Jr. has rushed for at least seventy-four yards and averaged 5.1 yards/carry. Kyle Shanahan is tough on his running backs. Meaning, if they are not picking up pass protection assignments or if they’re fumbling in practice, that back will not play. He typically uses one running back as the focal point and rarely substitutes them out. For example, Elijah Mitchell was the primary option down the stretch in 2021 when the 49ers made it to the NFC Championship game.

But now this is Jeff Wilson Jr’s. job and so far he has delivered. You could refer to Wilson as their “bell cow” running back. A “bell-cow” running back is considered a player that takes a majority of the running and passing snaps with little rest. Since Week Two, Wilson has averaged 17 rushing attempts/game, which in today’s NFL is a large number of attempts. 

The 49ers will need to continue running the football efficiently to keep the offense moving. It is important to note that with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback under Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers have a record of 9-13 or (.409 or 40.9%) when throwing more passes than runs and 23-1 (.960 or 96%) when running more than passing (including playoffs since 2018). 

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Therefore, Jeff Wilson Jr. needs to play good football for San Francisco to win games until Mitchell comes back. The 49ers face off against Atlanta in Week Six and look for their third straight win. The Falcons have one of the worst defenses in the league, giving up over 400 yards of offense and allowing over 24 points per game. Moreover, they are suspect against the run allowing opponents 115 yards per game.

A major key to another win will be the rushing attack. Kyle Shanahan continues to scheme up big runs and they are working. The 49ers will want to carry momentum into Week Seven where the Kansas City and Patrick Mahomes await the best defense in the NFL.

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Written By

Contributing Writer | Co-Host of NinerNate Nonsense on Youtube covering the San Francisco 49ers

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