(Follow along with all things 2021 NFL Draft with the FTN 2021 NFL Draft Hub!)
After a four-year tenure with the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, Elijah Mitchell is now ready to take on the NFL. He’s had plenty of success during his collegiate career and while he won’t be viewed as a top-three running back prospect in this draft class, Mitchell offers a lot and has plenty of experience running the football.
Louisiana-Lafayette has had one of the better rushing attacks in all of college football over the last few seasons, as they have produced multiple NFL offensive linemen and running backs. Mitchell is going to be one of them, but he also split time alongside Trey Ragas and Raymond Calais. Despite that, Mitchell still posted some great numbers. During his sophomore season in 2018, Mitchell scored 16 touchdowns on 146 carries, while rushing for 985 yards. He followed that up with a career-best junior year, rushing for 1,147 yards and 17 touchdowns on 198 carries, as Calais (81 carries) and Ragas (116 carries) took a bit of a backseat.
At nearly 6-foot-0, 200 pounds, Mitchell has solid size for a running back, but he also has very solid footwork for a back of his size. Mitchell actually cut weight ahead of his pro day to gain some explosiveness and it paid off. He has a decent jump cut that allows him to get into space and his speed is more than good enough to make plays, as Mitchell ran a 4.40 40-yard dash at his pro day, while his burst score is very impressive, too. And while he only had a 6.1% college target share over four seasons in college, I believe that Mitchell is still a positive as a pass-catcher. There were multiple plays I watched where he showcased very soft hands and it is nice to see a running back often catch the ball with their hands, rather than their body. If given the opportunity or put into the situation to be a part of an offense’s passing game, I have no doubts that Mitchell can succeed in that role. I also love Mitchell’s overall combination of size and speed that will allow him to be an every-down back if he earns that role or a team is dealing with injuries.
Weaknesses: Elijah Mitchell doesn’t force missed tackles
Despite having ideal size, Mitchell doesn’t often initiate a lot of contact and didn’t force a lot of missed tackles. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, he ranked just 18th and 17th in yards after contact and missed tackles forced, respectively. That is a bit concerning when you consider that the competition he faced was much weaker than a lot of the other running backs in this draft class. Again, I do like his jump-cut but that is more of a move to get him into the second level. I’d like to see him do more once he gets there, as he only recorded 12 runs of 15-plus yards this past season. Mitchell also isn’t going to run through many defenders, though he can take some hits, possessing solid contact balance. I’d like to see him begin to string together some moves in the open field, especially if he isn’t initiating much contact.
Landing spots: Could Elijah Mitchell work in Carolina?
Outside of the top three at the running back position in this class, Mitchell might have the best chance to become an every-down back in the NFL. He has a great combination of size and speed, while his vision and ability to find the running lanes is definitely above average. It is, however, highly unlikely that he is drafted to be a team’s starter, but I think there are some landing spots where we’d need to keep an eye on him, for sure. With Mike Davis now in Atlanta, I could see the Carolina Panthers targeting Mitchell, especially after an injury-ridden season from Christian McCaffrey. The same can be said for the Denver Broncos, who lost Phillip Lindsay this offseason, while Melvin Gordon’s future definitely isn’t set in stone.