Titans GM Ran Carthon has cool story about how 49ers identified late-round gem

One of the biggest NFL rivalries is the new wave of analytics to evaluate players vs. the traditional method of watching tape and workouts.  While fans tend to argue from a black-and-white perspective on which is better, the reality is most teams are marrying the two in a collaborative process.

Titans GM Ran Carthon spent the last six seasons in the 49ers’ front office before landing the job atop Tennessee’s front office this offseason. In his introductory press conference, Carthon detailed how San Francisco’s analytics department and more traditional scouting methods combined to find a gem late in the draft.

“(Former 49ers manager of football research and development) Demitrius Washington … he does his metrics to find all his guys,” Carthon said. “So he comes to me, he has a running back, and he’s like ‘man. My numbers are telling me this is the best outside zone-running running back in the draft.’ He was like, ‘but I’m not walking in there with Kyle (Shanahan) with just this paper to say that. Can you watch this guy and see if you can confirm what the tape saw?’ And I watched the tape – that was my first exposure to the player – and I agreed with him. And that player ended up being being Elijah Mitchell, that we took in the sixth round.”

The 49ers snagged Mitchell with the No. 194 pick in the 2021 draft. He quickly became an integral part of their rushing attack and led the team his rookie year with 963 rushing yards in 11 games.

It turns out the team had circled a player they were going to take with that pick, but the analytics/tape scouting caused them to go in a different direction.

“DeMeco Ryans, it was his first year as D-coordinator,” Carthon said. “And that round, that pick, was gonna be his linebacker. DeMeco came in the draft room while Elijah’s tape was on and he was watching Elijah. He called Johnny Holland, our linebackers coach, and was like, ‘Coach. This running back is better than the linebacker we’re gonna pick. So we shifted from taking a linebacker, and took Elijah. And it just kind of shows the collaboration of how that whole operation works.”

Mitchell was the example, but it’s easy to see how this analytics/tape collaboration could come into play for a slew of the 49ers’ late-round successes.

They’ll need to continue hitting on those late-round picks though even with Carthon out of the building. San Francisco holds 10 picks between No. 98 and the end of the draft, so finding gems like Mitchell on Days 2 and 3 will be vital if they’re going to continue contending for championships.


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Story originally appeared on Niners Wire