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The 49ers Rookie RB Conundrum

The Shannahan rushing system with a Zone Blocking Scheme has been a mainstay in the NFL for decades. Mike Shannahan was infamous in fantasy football for turning RBs like 6th Round Pick Terrell Davis and 3rd round Fullback Reuben Droughns into fantasy football gold. Now, his son Kyle Shannahan runs the same system in San Francisco with the 49ers and found success with UDFA RBs like Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. This type of instant production means that the Shannahan RB is highly valued, but those “Shannahanigans” of never knowing which player will get the touches can be frustrating.


When the 49ers drafted two RBs in the 2021 NFL Draft to pair with Mostert, Wilson, and JaMycal Hasty, there was significant potential for a young productive stud in that ZBS again. Ohio State RB Trey Sermon was drafted in the 3rd round at #88, a perfect fit for this one-cut scheme. Over 100 picks later in Round 6; they took another RB in Louisiana’s Elijah Mitchell, a productive older back who had experience on special teams. As the 2021 season approached, it seemed like Mostert and Sermon would split carries, but a surprising move shocked the football world.


For Week 1, Trey Sermon was declared inactive as a healthy scratch, with Mostert, Hasty, and Mitchell getting the call. When Mostert went down with a significant knee injury after 2 carries and JaMycal Hasty struggled in pass protection, Elijah Mitchell burst onto the scene with 19 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown. He looked good, and as Shannahan would say after the game, Mitchell was more ready to contribute than Sermon. With Sermon likely being active moving forward to replace Mostert, the question now becomes if Mitchell will keep the job and be the fantasy stud everyone thought Sermon would be.


With Sermon likely being activated this week against the Eagles, fantasy owners are going to enter the confounding risky area of starting a Shannahan RB. Will Elijah Mitchell continue dominating the touches? Will the higher drafted RB in Sermon get more looks? Or does the existence of both (and Hasty) make this backfield one to ignore?


Ultimately, you should sit both Mitchell and Sermon this week if you have other options. If RB is thin, Mitchell has a colossal upside and can be plugged in knowing the floor is very low. We should hopefully have some clarity after Week 2 on the situation.  I predict that those two split carries 60/40 in favor of Mitchell for most of the season until Jeff Wilson returns from injury and digs into their snaps a bit. But, one thing we know for sure, if one RB does emerge as a near bellcow, he will be a Top Ten fantasy RB this season.


See more of Shane’s work on Twitter @ShanePHallam and on Draft Countdown


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