How much does draft capital matter for players, particularly the running back position? In recent seasons, an undrafted player or late-round option in the NFL Draft exceeds expectations as a rookie. Blair has some research on the most predictive running back metrics to help us with that question. Sometimes a player earns volume via injuries or fitting better into an offense regardless of draft capital.
Elijah Mitchell comes to mind. He was drafted in the sixth round in 2021 as the 10th running back selected. Mitchell went three rounds after Trey Sermon. Sermon battled injuries as a rookie, and the 49ers waived him before the 2022 season. Mitchell stole the show immediately as a rookie, with over 100 rushing yards on 19 carries in Week 1. Mitchell also rushed for over 100 yards five times as a rookie and joined 11 other running backs to meet that threshold since 2010.
Most of Mitchell’s value came on the ground, with the ninth-best rushing EP/G yet the 17th-highest EP/G due to the low receiving volume. A 2022 rookie who went late in the draft compared similarly to Mitchell in another high-powered offense. Unsurprisingly, we found a running back who found most of his value as a rusher with minimal receiving opportunities, though he finished his rookie campaign strong.
If Mitchell hadn’t suffered multiple knee injuries and a groin strain, there’s a good chance he could’ve replicated his Year 1 success. Could this 2022 Mitchell look-alike succeed where his doppelgänger failed? We’ll look at historical comparisons for this 2022 rookie to help us decide how to value him in redraft and dynasty formats in 2023 and beyond.