If there’s one trend that always seems to stay alive in the NFL, it’s the periodic breakout of new “small school” running backs. In 2016, it was David Johnson. In 2019, it was Austin Ekeler. And in 2020, it was undrafted free agent rookie James Robinson. Who has the skill set to be the next productive running back from smaller colleges? Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah Mitchell is one 2021 NFL Draft prospect in that conversation.
Elijah Mitchell NFL Draft Profile & Senior Bowl Measurements
- Position: Running Back
- School: Louisiana-Lafayette
- Current Year: Senior
- Height: 5’10 1/4″
- Weight: 201 pounds
- Wingspan: 76 5/8″
- Arm: 30 1/2″
- Hand: 9 3/4″
Tony Pauline’s Elijah Mitchell Scouting Report
Positives: Three-year starter who posted a career-best 1,334 rushing yards as a sophomore. Tough, downhill ball carrier who displays solid short-area quickness. Runs with proper lean, keeps his feet moving, and drives his shoulder pads into opponents, picking up the difficult yardage. Does not go down without a fight and falls forward when tackled.
Rarely brought down by the first defender. Finds the running lanes and turns it upfield. Runs with authority. Shows the ability to handle a lot of carries. Solid pass catcher out of the backfield. Quick-footed for a bigger back and made defenders miss during Senior Bowl practices.
Negatives: Lacks corner speed and gets in trouble when he runs east and west. Plays to one speed and doesn’t beat defenders into the open field despite his 40-yard dash time.
Analysis: Mitchell was a consistent ball carrier at Louisiana, and while he’s best running on the inside, he showed the ability to run around defenders as well as run over them. He’s a better pass catcher than given credit for, and he has the ability to be a rotational back at the next level.
Elijah Mitchell Player Profile
While some running backs have Power Five schools flock to them, others aren’t so prestigious. Some running backs have to take the opportunities that arise for them and make the most out of the chances they get. Elijah Mitchell followed the latter path.
As a two-star recruit out of high school, the Louisiana-Lafayette running back had almost no interest. Mitchell’s only Division I-A offer was from the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns of the Sun Belt Conference. Mitchell didn’t have the luxury of weighing his options. Thus, he chose to sign with Louisiana, enrolling early in 2017. The Enrath, Louisiana product aimed to become a fixture in the team’s rotation, and potentially emerge as a starter down the road.
Elijah Mitchell’s career as a Louisiana-Lafayette running back
Mitchell joined the Ragin’ Cajuns with 2016 running back recruit and redshirt freshman Trey Ragas. Ragas, a borderline two-to-three-star prospect who’d received interest from several Power Five schools, had more prestige than Mitchell. While both players logged ample action as freshmen, Ragas was the one who replaced 2016 draftee Elijah McGuire as the lead back. Mitchell maintained an ancillary role along with Raymond Calais, picking up 42 carries for 257 yards and four touchdowns.
The arrival of head coach Billy Napier in 2018 lent the running backs an opportunity to make new impressions, and Mitchell was able to earn a larger share of the workload. Ragas was still the team’s lead back in 2018, but Mitchell closely trailed him with 145 carries and 977 yards. He also led the team with 16 total touchdowns and logged 349 receiving yards, helping the Cajuns reach bowl season.
A fierce two-headed rushing attack
By 2019, it was less of a competition in the backfield and more of a collaboration effort.
Mitchell and Ragas developed into one of the most productive running back tandems in college football. Behind the emergence of quarterback Levi Lewis, the Cajuns reached double-digit wins in 2019, and the running back tandem was again important. This time, it was Mitchell who came out on top. He eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career. He also logged a career-high 16 rushing touchdowns.
Mitchell’s senior season came under unexpected circumstances. Nevertheless, the Ragin’ Cajuns persisted and posted their best season in school history.
The Cajuns finished 10-1, winning their conference title as well as their bowl game against UTSA. Along the way, Mitchell amassed 878 yards and eight scores on 141 carries. The Louisiana-Lafayette running back carried for 3,267 rushing yards and 45 touchdowns in his collegiate career. He also added 597 yards and five touchdowns through the air.
Analyzing Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah Mitchell’s 2021 NFL Draft profile
Most draft positional rankings won’t have Elijah Mitchell near the top. Although he produced at a high clip at the collegiate level, there was only so much he could prove with the Ragin’ Cajuns. The next step requires Mitchell to take his same opportunistic style to the NFL, and his traits may bode well for that endeavor.
Mitchell has good size at 5-foot-10, 201 pounds, and he’s also a great athlete. Mitchell brings solid lateral agility, and he has the ability to navigate congestion with quick cuts. He tested extremely well at his pro day, logging a blistering 4.35 40-yard dash, a 37.5-inch vertical, a 128-inch broad jump, and a 6.94 three-cone.
Athleticism is important for running backs, as it allows for more creation capacity. However, it’s not the only trait that serves that purpose.
At running back, things like vision, contact balance, and physicality are also important. While Mitchell doesn’t check those boxes definitively, he has more than enough of each trait to be considered serviceable. He’ll need to be more consistent, but he can bounce off defenders, and when he makes the right reads, he can hit holes with impressive explosion and drive.
Potential issues with Elijah Mitchell’s profile
Most of the limitations in Elijah Mitchell’s 2021 NFL Draft profile revolve around his physical traits. While he’s an exceptional athlete, he doesn’t always dominate with his traits on tape, and he also lacks consistent play power for his size. There are times when he uses his leg churn to stay upright and pushes the pile forward. However, there are also times where Mitchell goes down far too easily on first contact.
Consistency is the name of the game for Mitchell. Utilizing his physicality more effectively at the NFL level will be key if he wants to reserve a role in the big leagues.
Versatility is another area where Mitchell can improve. He showed promising flashes as a pass catcher in his collegiate career, especially against UTSA this past December. But he still needs consistency there. He has the quantifiable upside to suggest he can improve there, and he did very well in that phase at the Senior Bowl. Now, the next step is translating to the NFL level.
Additionally, Mitchell’s lack of consistent play strength also shows up as a pass blocker. Mitchell plays with good energy, and there aren’t any resounding weaknesses in his game. By the same virtue, however, Mitchell also has no consistently elite traits, and he doesn’t always play to his 40 time. He’s decent across the board, and his draft stock will likely reflect that.
Senior Bowl Performance
Elijah Mitchell measured in well with a stout build, and he supplemented that build with solid athletic traits throughout the week. Tony Pauline summated Mitchell’s impact in his final summary on Mitchell, linked above in the American Team Practice Report: “Entering the week we knew Mitchell was a powerful interior ball carrier. The question was, is he anything other than a powerful ball carrier? Mitchell answered those questions definitively by displaying terrific quickness, footwork, and the ability to sift through the trash. He also caught the ball extremely well all week long.”
Elijah Mitchell’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah Mitchell is a fun prospect when he flashes. If he can hone his explosiveness, elusiveness, and contact balance at the next level, he could develop into a lead back. But for now, Mitchell has yet to showcase that potential consistently, and that limits his projection. Mitchell most likely profiles as a Day 3 running back who could add value to a rotation in Round 4 or Round 5.
Because Mitchell has a lot of general utility in several areas, he’s fairly flexible when it comes to fits. Any team that might need more depth or rotational competence is a good spot for the Louisiana-Lafayette running back.
Mitchell wouldn’t be a receiving back right away, but he can easily serve as a change-of-pace back with the ability to take the brunt of the carries on short notice. His work ethic is exceptional, according to the word of his head coach. Thus, he should be ready for any opportunity that comes his way.
Places where Elijah Mitchell could thrive
Teams like the Bears, Texans, and Titans could be good matches, but in truth, many teams could take a flyer on Mitchell on Day 3. He wasn’t a lock to be drafted before the offseason, but with a strong Senior Bowl showing and an excellent pro day, he’s essentially locked himself into the selection pool.
Being a Day 3 pick may be underwhelming on the surface, but Day 3 picks are critical in their own right. Teams need a constant influx of depth and flexibility, and without those Day 3 picks, they don’t have that. And as we’ve seen in the past, Day 3 picks can emerge and become key contributors, especially at running back. Mitchell can potentially follow that path, but even if he doesn’t become a star, he should have an NFL future, regardless.
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