Running backs who can play all three downs and seize maximum opportunity are coveted assets in dynasty. However, they are difficult to find in fantasy football. There are only so many backs who have the profile to play in this type of role. Finding any of these potential workhorse running backs is even tougher in the late rounds of rookie drafts. In 2021, Elijah Mitchell of Louisiana-Lafayette has the tools to be an NFL workhorse. He could be the biggest value pick in all of 2021 rookie drafts due to his advanced stats, metrics, and profile, and because he out-performed three other potential NFL draft picks during his college career.
On the surface, Elijah Mitchell checks almost all of the boxes required to be an NFL workhorse, athletic testing pending. If he can run close to 4.50 or under in the 40-yard Dash, he could be solidified as the biggest steal in the entire 2021 class. He has great size at 5-11 and 215-pounds, which is enough to fit the workhorse size window. Other sites even have him listed closer to 220-pounds, so he checks off the size box. If he cuts down even to the 212-pound range to run faster, it will be sufficient. His 27.1-percent (59th-perrcentile among qualified running backs) College Dominator Rating isn’t elite for a small school player, but in context, he was beating out other NFL-caliber players. He averaged 6.5 (85th-percentile) College YPC, which shows there is hope for the 40-time and/or burst.
The Louisiana Lafayette product had his breakout season as a sophomore, rushing for just shy of 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns. Mitchell checked another important box by securing 20 of 21 targets in the passing game in that sophomore season. His freshman season was off to a great start; he averaged over 6.0 yards per carry in five games until he suffered an injury. In his junior year, he jumped up to over 1,100 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. This was the 11th-most touchdowns in the FBS that season. As a senior in 2020, his yards per carry average was over 6.0 yet again and he caught 16 passes, continuing to show off his ability in the passing game.
Mitchell has the size, the rushing production, and enough production in the passing game to warrant significant attention. Although he didn’t excel at any trait, it’s essential that he is well-rounded being that he’s a late-round, small school player. This is why his athletic testing could make him the biggest value pick in the class. If he can run fast with the size, production, and receiving ability, he becomes a late-round rookie pick who has NFL workhorse potential. It’s rare to find players with a complete profile like this in the third round or later in rookie drafts.
Production in Context
Elijah Mitchell’s production is fine on the surface, but nothing exceptional for a small-school prospect when looking at the stats. Elite production is a staple for small school players since they play weaker competition. However, Mitchell battled and out-produced three other NFL-caliber players in college. This proves his talent. Also, his production could have been among the best in the nation if not for sharing a field with them, which is why context is so important when evaluating rookies.
Elijah Mitchell had atleast 1 TD in 29 of 42 Games at UL-Lafayette ? pic.twitter.com/yqptaCtTyD
— RotoUnderworld (@rotounderworld) February 27, 2021
Trey Ragas is 5-10, 218-pounds and had a freshman year breakout, rushing for 800 yards. In the next season, the tide began to turn. Ragas had more yards but on 60 more rush attempts but Mitchell was more efficient. Ragas had 25 receptions with his size and early production, showing he is no weak competition. He is an NFL Draft prospect and Mitchell outright took the job from him in 2019, logging 80 more carries, rushing for 300 more yards, and catching more passes.
Raymond Calais, a seventh-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft with a 4.42 (95th-percentile) 40-yard Dash time, was also at Louisiana Lafayette and was vastly outplayed by Mitchell as well. Thirdly, Chris Smith was a sophomore in 2020 and tied Mitchell with 16 receptions, while being an All-Conference and All-American kick returner. Smith could be on the radar for the 2023 class if he handles a large workload without Mitchell and Ragas. Mitchell took the job away from Ragas with his talent and out-played all three of these NFL-caliber talents.
Putting It All Together
Elijah Mitchell started over three NFL-caliber teammates by just taking the opportunities away from them with his play. Had he not shared a field with them, he likely would have been one of the biggest producers in college football over his career. The on-field talent he showed over his four seasons is matched with excellent size and quality pass-catching ability. All Mitchell does is check the boxes for a potential NFL workhorse. If he can run fast, the upside is tremendous. A great 40-time would make him a must-draft player in the third round of 2021 rookie drafts. Draft capital will be an issue, but if he can land on a team in the middle rounds, his profile should eventually shine through with RB2 upside and potentially more.