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The 49ers running back has been highly efficient, but that hasn’t translated to playing time.

The San Francisco 49ers running back situation has been one to monitor throughout the season, as star Christian McCaffrey leads the league in rushing yards, but his propensity for catching passes in the air has forced the team to be efficient with his snaps.

That has led to a few carries for backups Elijah Mitchell and Jordan Mason, with head coach Kyle Shanahan acknowledging the need to create more of a balance in the past, although it’s tough to take a player of McCaffrey’s caliber off the field.

Last Sunday, the 49ers provided McCaffrey with 16 of the team’s 27 carries, instead involving him more in the passing game with six catches for 47 yards on ten targets.

Utilizing McCaffrey in space more is a smarter plan, as it allows for less wear-and-tear on his body in comparison to running up the middle into traffic.

But, how did the 49ers split those other 11 carries?

Elijah Mitchell led the way with eight, earning 23 yards in those opportunities, while Deebo Samuel had three carries for 29 yards and a touchdown.

However, one name was missing from the bunch: running back Jordan Mason, who saw just three snaps of action, despite the game being well out of hand.

Mason’s lack of playing time has been somewhat of a mystery this season, as the running back has rushed for 5.6 yards per carry over his 21 opportunities, but has ceded the No. 2 role to Elijah Mitchell, who has been much less efficient with just 73 yards on 30 carries.

Now, there are a few reasons for that imbalance in efficiency between the backups, but the fact of the matter is: Mason has been useful when on the field. So, why hasn’t that translated into more playing time.

Speaking with reporters ahead of San Francisco’s Week 12 matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, head Kyle Shanahan revealed that it’s not a trust issue, but rather a preference issue, as the 49ers frankly like McCaffrey and Mitchell over Mason.

“Why would [trust] be an issue?,“ Shanahan said. “Two guys in front of him would have to get hurt to get more there. There’s three of them. You’re implying that I don’t trust him or something, that’s what I heard in the question, so I’m trying to figure out exactly what your question is.”

When asked about the difference in efficiency, Shanahan deflected away from the statistics, pointing to Mitchell’s track record.

“We look at more than stats. Mitchell’s our number two back. He’s done some pretty good things here and JP’s our three, he’s been our two at times. But it’s how most cases are in the NFL,” Shanahan said.

Now, Mitchell does hold a strong track record in San Francisco, having never fumbled the ball in his career, which is something of high importance to Shanahan and the 49ers.

But, he’s also seen a number of injuries throughout his 49ers career, while Mason has a different skillset as well as more of a powerback.

The 49ers do need to find ways to keep their top players more healthy, and that could come, perhaps, at the hand of Jordan Mason taking some of those extra opportunities.

But, for now, it appears that will not be the case for the 49ers.

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