There are tons of big names in this year’s RB class. Najee Harris and Travis Etienne lead the way, but players like Kenneth Gainwell, Javonte Williams, Michael Carter, Trey Sermon, Chuba Hubbard, and Jaret Patterson have all had big-time buzz around them at one point or another. Lost in all this is Elijah Mitchell, UL Lafayette’s 1A running back for the past two seasons. Here’s how he breaks down.
Measurables: 5’10 2/8″, 215 lbs, 31″ arm, 76 5/8″ wingspan
Career Stats: 42 games played, 527 rushes for 3267 yards (6.2 YPC) and 41 TDs, 49 receptions for 597 yards and 5 TDs, 4 fumbles with 0 lost
Games Watched: Troy (2019), UL Monroe (2019), Iowa State (2020), UAB (2020), Arkansas State (2020)
Ball Security: Mitchell clocks in with a fumble rate of 131.8, which is above average on my scale (above 150 is elite). He didn’t fumble in any of the games I watched, but I saw him hold the ball close and tight to his body, which makes me think it will carry over in the NFL. No concerns here. Grade: 6.83/10
Contact Balance: Mitchell was near the top of the Sun Belt in yards after contact in 2020, which matches up nicely with some absolutely absurd reps on tape. He almost never goes down at first contact and always falls forward to finish runs, regardless of how defenders manage to get him to the ground. Arm tackles are mere annoyances to him on almost every occasion. I’d say that his body control is likely near the best in the class, although I need to closely watch a lot more of the backs to be able to say that for certain. Grade: 7.42/10
Durability: Mitchell’s 556 career touches are about average for a college player, so I’m not overly worried about his college load affecting his longevity in the NFL. He did miss part of the Iowa State game in 2020 after taking a hard shot to the head/shoulder area, but it looked to be more the product of a good hit than anything else, and he didn’t miss any time beyond that. There are two major injuries on his record: a Lisfranc fracture in 2017 that caused him to miss the second half of the season and an unknown injury that kept him out of a few games as a high school senior in 2016. He played in 29 straight games before missing one this season due to COVID-19 protocols. Grade: 6.99/10
Elusiveness: Mitchell is, bluntly, not a plus athlete. He consistently struggled to make defenders miss in space or string multiple moves together quickly to spring free. That means multiple defenders within about 5 yards of him are usually able to bring him down. That said, I do like his jump cut, which he employs often and works almost every time despite not being particularly snappy. He has a bit of a one-cut back profile, but showed he can still make something happen down the field if necessary. Grade: 5.56/10
Pass Protection: There’s really not a lot to go on here. Mitchell didn’t stay in as a blocker often, and when he did, he looked inconsistent. There were a couple times he fell victim to miscommunications with his linemen, especially on stunts. His strength as a runner carries over, but it’s important to remember he’s going up against Sun Belt competition. Does that strength hold up in the NFL? Mitchell performed well in this area during the Senior Bowl, which makes me think yes, but it’s something to monitor. Grade: 5.76/10
Power: Again, the Sun Belt competition rears its ugly head. I thought Mitchell’s power popped a lot more against in-conference opponents than it did against Iowa State, where it looked as though he was struggling to run through defenders at times. He’s not the most powerful back on his own team (that’d be Trey Ragas). Running people over isn’t exactly his specialty, but he does possess enough strength to keep his momentum going forward at all times. Grade: 6.41/10
Speed/Quickness: Mitchell profiles to me as a high 4.5s-low 4.6s guy, not anybody you’d mistake as a big play threat whenever he touches the ball. When he does break a long run, he often gets caught from behind by faster secondary players. There’s also not enough burst or lateral agility to bounce runs to the outside when the opportunities present themselves. Again, he’s not a plus athlete. Grade: 5.44/10
Receiving: Another area where he didn’t have a ton of reps, but I thought he looked far more consistent as a receiver than a pass blocker. He mostly runs flat routes and short hitches, so he’s far from the most complete route tree of backs in this class. That said, I thought his hands looked good enough for him to be a useful receiver in the NFL, even though his lack of dynamic traits in space limit him. I think he’s best suited as a safety valve receiver the way UL Lafayette utilized him. Grade: 5.87/10
Vision: This is by far my favorite aspect of Mitchell’s game. He’s a patient runner that finds cutback lanes whenever they open up, even when his offensive line fails to properly execute. I like the way he processes action at the line of scrimmage; I think it shows he has a great understanding of what his blockers are supposed to be doing. This stays consistent as he gets upfield; he does well to let blockers get in front of him and dictate his path rather than blindly rushing forward. Grade: 7.75/10
Red Flags: I didn’t find anything to suggest I should be concerned about Mitchell in any way, shape, or form. Grade: 5/5
Total Grade (before RAS): (63.03/95)*10 = 6.63 before adjustment
My positional adjustment for RBs is 1.198, as the average draft position for the 1st running back off the board in the last ten drafts is 19.8.
6.63/1.198 = 5.54 (4th round value)
Floor: Solid RB3
Ceiling: Committee RB1
Player Comparison: Damien Harris, New England Patriots
Mitchell ended up being a tough eval, because I want to have him higher than this, but his limitations are hard to ignore and prevent me from pushing him further up my board. His contact balance is great, but he’s not laterally agile enough to be a true impact player in today’s NFL. His vision might be the best in this class, in my opinion, but his reps in the passing game are limited and leave lingering questions. I think he’ll run in the high 4.5s to low 4.6s, not a stellar time for a back, but not a terrible one, either.
Mitchell’s career trajectory seems to be that of a solid RB2 for an NFL team. You can’t fix athleticism, after all. It’s not like you can teach him to be more agile and make defenders miss in space. What you can teach him is how to be a better receiver and pass blocker, the two areas I felt he showed promise in but simply didn’t have the reps on film to eliminate my concerns. Everything else is ready-made for a solid, but not incredible, NFL career: great vision, above average contact balance and ball security, adequate power. He’s a durable player, too, having suffered only 2 injuries that cost him any time and none since 2017.
Ultimately, I think a team will scoop Mitchell up early on Day 3 to bolster the back half of their RB rotation while he hopefully develops into a more complete player. A team like the Ravens stands out as a good place for him to ease into the NFL game, as they run the most similar shotgun read-option system to Mitchell’s as a Ragin’ Cajun. Seattle may have a void at RB if free agent Chris Carson departs and he profiles as a nice replacement for Carolina’s Mike Davis, who is also a free agent.
Best Team Fits: Seattle Seahawks, Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers
Follow Alex on Twitter @alexkatson.