49ers Replace Elijah Mitchell With One-Time Pro Bowler

San Francisco 49ers, Tashaun Gipson

Getty Tashaun Gipson on the field with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

After Elijah Mitchell was diagnosed with a sprained MCL that will cost him two months of on-field action, the San Francisco 49ers have placed the second-year running back on injured reserve, ending his season for at least the next three weeks.

So naturally, with a spot freed up on the active roster and a half-dozen running backs brought in for tryouts, John Lynch weighed his options, took stock of the league, and decided to fill Mitchell’s spot on the 53-man roster with Tashaun Gipson, the 11th-year safety who was elevated from the team’s practice squad in Week 1 and actually started opposite Talanoa Hufanga versus the Chicago Bears.

With Marlon Mack also signed to the practice squad to help weather Mitchell’s absence over the next two months, the 49ers identified a player who performed far above expectations in Week 1 at a position of need and signed him to the active roster before another team could secure his services.


Tashaun Gipson Graded Out Very Well In Week 1

Despite failing to make the Niners’ 53-man roster, Gipson was elevated to the active roster for Week 1 to extensively replace injured captain Jimmie Ward in the starting lineup. He logged 57 of a possible 58 defensive snaps, was targeted once in coverage, and finished out the game with the second-highest defensive grade (80.3) of any player on the team, according to Pro Football Focus.

Logging 44 snaps at free safety versus seven in the box, five in the slot, and one out wide, Gipson earned a coverage grade of 70.8, which ranked third on the team, and a run defense grade of 77.2, which ranked second. Though the same size is small, Gipson’s Week 1 performance ranks very well league-wide among safeties, earning the eighth-highest defensive grade of any qualifying safety in the NFL, the 16th-highest coverage grade out of 70 qualifying safeties, and the sixth-highest run defense grade among 68 qualifying safeties.

If Gipson can continue to maintain this level of play until Ward returns to the field, the Niners should be just fine at the back end of their defense and have fantastic optionality at the end of the season when all three safeties are fully healthy.


The San Francisco 49ers Have Two Of The Top-10 Safeties Of Week 1

While Gipson’s efforts in Week 1 were exceptional for a practice squad elevatee, the play of his partner in crime, Hufanga, was arguably the most welcomed surprise of the Niners’ entire Week 1 affair. Logging every single snap for the 49ers against the Bears, Gipson recorded 11 tackles, two tackles for a loss, and an interception in only his fourth career start and looked like a natural replacement for Jaquiski Tartt as the team’s long-term answer at strong safety.

Pro Football Focus similarly took notice of Hufanga’s efforts, scoring the former fifth-round pick out of USC with a defensive grade of 90.8, a coverage grade of 88.0, and a run defense grade of 80.1, which rank second, fourth, and third among qualifying safeties. Splitting his time between the box and the deep half of the field, the only area where Hufanga wasn’t among the best performers in the NFL in Week 1 was as a pass rusher, as his one fruitless blitzing attempt earned him a pass-rushing grade of 59.1.

Fortunately, if Hufanga can continue to make plays against the pass and the run, defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans will let a few missed blitzes slide in favor of the exceptional efforts he provides both in the box and in coverage.

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