Thu Dec 2 2:56am ET
By JOSH DUBOW
AP Pro Football Writer
San Francisco 49ers running back Elijah Mitchell (25) is congratulated by wide receiver Deebo Samuel after scoring against the Minnesota Vikings during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)
San Francisco 49ers running back Elijah Mitchell (25) runs against Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle James Lynch (92) during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Elijah Mitchell has been one of the NFL's biggest surprises this season.
Whether it's going from overlooked sixth-round project out of Louisiana-Lafayette into one of the league's productive backs as a rookie, or his knack on nearly every run for the San Francisco 49ers to churn out a couple of extra yards, Mitchell exceeds expectations.
''He competes for every single yard,'' coach Kyle Shanahan said. ''One of the biggest things for me as a play-caller is when I see with my own eyes, that it's going to be second-and-10 and I start to look down and think about what I'm calling next. Then people in the box tell me it's second-and-6. I don't totally believe him because I saw that he was going down and I don't realize that he fell forward and got 4 yards. When it's like that, which he does all the time now, you keep going, it helps you keep doing it.''
Mitchell has been consistently doing that all season as he is fourth in the NFL with 86.6 yards rushing per game and second among all backs with 3.84 yards per carry after contact, according to Pro Football Focus.
Mitchell has helped spark a running game that has led the Niners (6-5) to get back into playoff position in the NFC as San Francisco has overcome the loss of starter Raheem Mostert in the season opener by finding a back who may not be quite as fast, but makes up for it with his power.
''Elijah hits the holes downhill, like Raheem does. He's not going to run 23 mph, but that 5 yards in between where he gets the ball through the line of scrimmage, he's just so explosive and so fast,'' tight end George Kittle said. ''I think guys think, `I'm going to get him with an arm tackle because he's not the biggest back in the world.' But he just runs through arm tackles.''
Mitchell has surprised even his own teammates with his power at 5-foot-10, 200 pounds. Back in Week 8, Mitchell ran into the back of his left tackle Trent Williams, who said that he probably hadn't been hit that hard by his own running back since blocking for Adrian Peterson back in college at Oklahoma.
''I was like, `Damn, that's what they feel when they've got to tackle him?''' Williams said. ''I can tell why he breaks so many tackles.''
Mitchell was a bit of an afterthought when he was drafted in the sixth round after San Francisco had already traded up to take Trey Sermon in the third round to join a group that also included Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr., Wayne Gallman and JaMycal Hasty.
But the Niners quickly realized in training camp that they might have found a gem in Mitchell and he has proven them right.
''There's some stuff to his game that the more he plays, the more you realize that he's a special young player and there's a reason why he's having productivity,'' offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel said. ''You'd have no way of knowing. Even grainy Louisiana-Lafayette tape wouldn't tell you that.''
Mitchell is just the latest unheralded back to have success in the Shanahan system with Bobby Turner as running backs coach.
That dates back to when Kyle's father, Mike, and Turner were together in Denver, and backs like Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary and Mike Anderson had success after being drafted in the later rounds.
Mitchell is looking to be the fifth rookie taken in round four or later in the draft to average at least 85 yards rushing per game since 1975 and all but one - Jordan Howard in 2016 - played for a Shanahan and Turner. Gary, Anderson and Alfred Morris are the others.
Mitchell credits Turner for instilling the toughness in him that allowed him to handle the ball 32 times last week despite a broken finger.
''Really it just starts in the room,'' Mitchell said. ''That's just something that our position coach Bobby T expresses a lot, keep driving and protecting the ball. So it just starts with the mindset and we always talk about that.''
NOTES: WR Deebo Samuel (groin), LB Fred Warner (hamstring), LB Dre Greenlaw (groin), LB Marcell Harris (concussion) and RB Trey Sermon (ankle) missed practice with injuries. ... RB JaMycal Hasty (ankle) and DL Maurice Hurst (calf) were limited.
The New England Patriots placed safety Kyle Dugger on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday after he tested positive for the virus. Dugger, if vaccinated, will need to be asymptomatic and return two negatives tests in order to be able to play on Monday night against the Buffalo Bills. Dugger has emerged as a top-10 fantasy defensive back in IDP leagues this year, so fantasy managers in those formats will need to search for a potential replacement this week if Dugger doesn't get cleared by Monday. The 25-year-old has 80 total tackles, three interceptions and a fumble recovery in 12 games played this year, and he'll join running back J.J. Taylor on the COVID-19 list.
Seattle Seahawks running back Travis Homer (calf) was listed as a full practice participant on Wednesday after he missed the Monday night loss to the Washington Football Team. Rashaad Penny (hamstring) is also on track to return after being limited in practice. It means that Seattle's full stable of mediocre running backs, including Alex Collins and DeeJay Dallas, should all be available for the Week 13 date with the division-rival San Francisco 49ers. Collins has been seeing the majority of backfield touches with Chris Carson (neck) out for the season, but he's done very little with them, and Seattle would be best off trying something new. It's part of the reason they signed veteran Adrian Peterson to their practice squad Wednesday. Collins has been the best bet as a touchdown-dependent RB3/flex in deeper leagues, but this backfield is one to stay away from if you can.
Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (leg) was able to practice in full on Wednesday after he was injured in the Week 12 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Bridgewater was injured early in the first half and missed the entire second quarter before returning in the second half. The Broncos led the entire game, so Bridgewater wasn't asked to do much with his arm, finishing 11-for-18 for just 129 yards and one touchdown. He'll likely have to throw more often to keep pace with the Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday night, but Denver's low-volume passing attack has made Bridgewater a midrange QB2, at best, most weeks.
Seattle Seahawks running backs Alex Collins (abdomen) and Rashaad Penny (hamstring) were both limited participants in practice on Wednesday. Collins has seen the vast majority of the backfield touches with Chris Carson (neck) out for the season, although it helped that both Penny and Travis Homer were inactive in the Monday night loss to the Washington Football Team. But since Week 5, Collins is averaging just 3.61 yards per carry on 88 carries for 318 yards and one touchdown, adding six catches on seven targets for 52 yards. Penny, Homer and newly signed veteran Adrian Peterson could cut into Collins workload moving forward as Seattle looks to fix their offense. It's clear that Collins isn't the answer in real life or in fantasy, and he'll merely be a low-ceiling and low-floor RB3/flex in Week 13 against the San Francisco 49ers.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf (foot) was listed as a limited participant in practice on Wednesday. Metcalf has been bothered by a foot injury this year, but it hasn't kept him from playing in games on Sundays. The 23-year-old should be fine to play this Sunday against the division-rival San Francisco 49ers. In three games with quarterback Russell Wilson back from Injured Reserve, Metcalf has uncharacteristically been a dud, catching just eight passes on 20 targets for 70 yards and no trips to paydirt. Metcalf still shouldn't be benched by fantasy managers, but he's become a WR2 instead of the high-end WR1 he was earlier in the year, and things won't get any easier against a Niners defense that has allowed just 207.3 passing yards per game in 2021. Metcalf had four catches on eight targets for 65 yards and a touchdown in the Week 4 game against San Fran.
New Orleans Saints kicker Brett Maher isn't a worthy fantasy option in Week 13. Maher first started kicking for the team a couple of weeks back against Philly in which he converted his only field goal attempt, but went 2-for-3 in extra points. Last week, New Orleans mustered only six points and Maher wasn't able to take the field for any attempts. This week, he plays a Cowboys team that offers a favorable matchup for fantasy kickers, but it's still best to keep Maher on the bench given he just joined the team and the offense has been struggling lately.
San Francisco 49ers running back JaMycal Hasty (ankle) returned to a limited practice on Wednesday. Hasty hasn't played since Week 9, but it looks as though he's knocking off the cobwebs and could potentially return for a Week 13 date with the division-rival Seattle Seahawks this Sunday. It would be good timing, too, since rookie Trey Sermon (ankle) is dealing with a sprained ankle that could land him on short-term Injured Reserve. If the 25-year-old does return this weekend, he'll merely be the third RB option behind workhorse Elijah Mitchell and Jeff Wilson Jr. In five games played in 2021, Hasty has only 13 carries for 48 yards and one touchdown while adding 13 catches for 91 more yards on 18 targets. He should only be stashed in deep PPR leagues.
The New Orleans Saints defense shouldn't be in starting lineups in Week 13. This unit got embarrassed on Thanksgiving by Buffalo, who posted 31 points. In addition, the defense allowed 40 points to the Eagles the prior week. While this unit is considered the strength of the team, it hasn't been playing up to its hype in the past few weeks. Dallas boasts a great QB in Dak Prescott and strong weapons such as CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, Ezekiel Elliott, and potentially even Amari Cooper for this contest. It's best to stream another defense.
San Francisco 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw (groin), who suffered a groin injury in the Week 12 win over the Minnesota Vikings, is a long shot to play in Week 13 versus the division-rival Seattle Seahawks, according to a source. Greenlaw didn't practice on Wednesday and will be monitored throughout the week. It's a tough break for Greenlaw and San Fran's D, as he was just activated from Injured Reserve prior to last week's game following core-muscle surgery. The Niners could also be missing linebackers Fred Warner (hamstring) and Marcell Harris (concussion), which could allow Seattle's offense to finally get going this weekend.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Deonte Harris is not a strong play in Week 13. Harris was playing well a few weeks back and was even posting at least 50 or more yards per game most of the time. Nevertheless, the WR has cooled down the last two weeks and has only managed three receptions for 20 yards on 10 targets in the last two contests. It's best to avoid him in fantasy given he's been struggling recently.
New Orleans Saints tight end Nick Vannett shouldn't be in starting lineups this week. The 28-year-old should be considered the team TE1 for now with Adam Trautman (MCL sprain) out for the foreseeable future. While it was encouraging that Vannett scored a touchdown last week, it came on his only reception of the game and it was for 11 yards. As a result, the TE's role at the moment is too small to merit any fantasy value.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith is a flex play against the Cowboys on Thursday night. Smith only managed 31 yards last week but was playing well the prior three weeks to that. The 25-year-old had posted at least 44 yards in three straight contests while seeing seven or eight targets in two of those contests. The WR is the best pass-catching option on this team right now, meaning he will see a few targets each week. The Cowboys allow the seventh-most fantasy points to wideouts, so Smith is worth starting as a flex.
San Francisco 49ers rookie running back Trey Sermon (ankle) was listed as a non-participant in practice on Wednesday. Sermon suffered a sprained ankle in the Week 12 win over the Minnesota Vikings and is a candidate to land on the short-term Injured Reserve this week. He's unlikely to practice or play in Week 13 against the division-rival Seattle Seahawks. Rookie Elijah Mitchell will continue to serve as the team's workhorse running back, with Jeff Wilson Jr. backing him up. JaMycal Hasty (ankle), who has missed the last couple of games with his own ankle injury, has returned to practice and would be in line to serve as the RB3 in this backfield if he's active this Sunday. Sermon has 41 rushing attempts for 167 yards and one touchdown while catching three of four targets for 26 yards in his first nine NFL games. He's strictly a dynasty stash to close out the year.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marquez Callaway is a risky option in Week 13 against Dallas. The WR has posted 37 yards or less in the last six contests despite seeing four or more targets in all of those games. The 23-year-old has not been taking advantage of his targets and has been struggling to produce despite not much competition for targets. Though the Cowboys are a favorable matchup for fantasy wideouts, it will be hard to trust Callaway given his recent production woes.
The Pittsburgh Steelers activated wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud from the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday. McCloud was initially placed on the COVID-19 list on Nov. 23. He has 19 catches for 141 yards (7.4 yards per catch) on the season and has been the team's main kick returner. McCloud has 21 kickoff returns for 503 yards and has also returned 22 punts for a total of 194 yards. In a corresponding move, offensive lineman Joe Haeg was put on the COVID-19 list. McCloud had an outlier game in Week 10 against the Detroit Lions when he caught nine of a season-high 12 targets for 63 yards. The Baltimore Ravens present an opportunity for the Steelers pass-catchers down the field, but McCloud is off the fantasy radar as a weekly starting option.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill is in the QB2 conversation against Dallas in Week 13. Hill has proved throughout his tenure with the Saints that he is a versatile player who can be effective in many different ways. He had a solid year in 2020, where he had 928 passing yards with four touchdowns and two picks, 457 rushing yards with eight scores, and 98 receiving yards with a score as well. Hill will replace Trevor Siemian at QB and will bring a lot more talent to the position. The 31-year-old is a streaming option against a Dallas squad that's average against fantasy QBs.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (groin) did not take part in Wednesday's practice session. Samuel strained his groin in the Week 12 win over the Minnesota Vikings and is expected to miss one to weeks, so it won't be a surprise if he misses practice all week. The 25-year-old's injury is big for the 49ers and fantasy managers, as he's been one of the most productive fantasy receivers in football in 2021, and he was also being used more as a ball-carrier in recent weeks. With Samuel likely out this Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, Brandon Aiyuk will become much more attractive as a fantasy starter, while Jauan Jennings figures to be in line for the No. 2 role. Expect tight end George Kittle to see even more targets as well.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth (concussion) was able to put in a full practice on Wednesday to begin the week. Although he hasn't officially cleared the league's concussion protocol just yet, he has to be getting close. The 23-year-old should be able to play in Week 13 against the Baltimore Ravens, barring a setback with his head injury that he suffered in the Week 12 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The rookie has emerged as a favorite weapon of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's, especially near the goal line, as Freiermuth has six touchdowns on the season and five in the last five games. Against a Ravens D that is surrendering the fourth-most fantasy points per game to the position, Freiermuth will be a TE1 this weekend if he's active.
Seattle Seahawks OG Kyle E. Fuller (ankle) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Dec. 1. OG Gabe Jackson (knee), OG Damien Lewis (elbow), RB Rashaad Penny (hamstring), OT Brandon Shell (shoulder), OT Duane Brown (non-injury) and LB Carlos Dunlap (non-injury) were limited during practice. RB Travis Homer (calf), WR Penny Hart (ankle), DT Al Woods (knee), LB Cody Barton (calf) and CB D.J. Reed (knee) fully participated in practice.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Devin Duvernay (thigh) wasn't able to suit up for practice on Wednesday. Fellow wideout Miles Boykin (finger) was listed as limited. Duvernay can be electric with the ball in his hands, but he's had more of an impact in 2021 on special teams as a kick returner than he's had on offense. The 24-year-old has a total of 24 catches on 33 targets for 205 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games, not going over four receptions or 45 yards in a single game. As such, he's only worth stashing in deeper leagues or dynasty/keeper formats. If Duvernay can't get on the practice field later this week and is forced to miss Week 13 against the division-rival Pittsburgh Steelers, veteran Sammy Watkins could see a few more looks in the passing game.