Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images
In 2016, Raheem Mostert, having been cut from the Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears, is picked up by the San Francisco 49ers. Could this be a long-term home for him? Most signs point to the answer being no.
He finished that 2016 campaign with one game played for the 49ers and one rush for 6 yards, the first carry of his career.
As fate would have it, by the conclusion of the 2019 season, in which he shouldered the load for the 49ers and was outshone in the playoffs only by Derrick Henry, Mostert’s career yards per carry average would hold at exactly the same number of his first carry: 6.0 yards.
In 2017, Mostert played in 11 games, mostly as an elite special-teamer, but got six carries for 30 yards. He was joined in the backfield that season by another undraftee: Matt Breida.
Breida played in all 16 games that year, rushing for 465 yards and a pair of touchdowns. In that offseason, he and Mostert grew tight. They were two diminutive, lightning-quick runners who were snapped up as undrafted free agents. They had plenty in common on paper, aside from their personalities.
But last season, Breida had ankle injuries catch up with him and went from the starter to the last option in the pecking order. He didn’t take a snap in the Super Bowl, while Mostert reached the pinnacle of his career and became the bona fide No. 1 running back for San Francisco, despite still never having started a game.
And on Day 3 of the 2020 NFL Draft, Mostert saw his “little brother” — as he referred to Breida in a Wednesday conference call — traded to the Miami Dolphins. His feelings met in a grey area, between disappointment at having a close friend shipped off to the opposite side of the country, and excitement at what that likely means for Breida.
“I told Matt I was angry, but at the same time I was happy,” Mostert said. “Just because he’s getting the opportunity to one, go down to Miami to try and be one of the best backs in Miami that he can possibly be and I know he’s gonna take that step because that’s all Matt does. I was fortunate to watch him grow from being a young rookie to being a full-grown man in this league and for me, I’m more and more so excited for him.”
Mostert said he spoke to Breida that day, on April 25, and recalled how he was the first person Breida talked to when he came to the 49ers. He said the two shared a bond from the get-go over their undrafted status, and won’t lose that because of the trade.
“He talked to me and he said, ‘Hey, Raheem, we’re still gonna be contacting each other week in and week out.’ I said, ‘You’re damn right we are,’ because he’s my brother and I’m gonna always look after my little brother, no matter what.” Mostert said. “And for me, I believe that our bond is unbreakable. It’s something that, it’s gonna last for a lifetime.”
Mostert, at age 28, is the oldest running back on the roster (he’s got a month on Jerick McKinnon), and without Breida he’s preparing for his first full season as a true lead back. Sure, Kyle Shanahan will probably start Tevin Coleman because he likes Coleman on first downs. Why, exactly? Here’s his somewhat confounding answer to that question, from Jan. 9:
“Because Tevin brings a lot to our game. I know he hasn’t had the same yards-per-carry as Raheem has done. I don’t really care much who the starter is. All those guys play. Raheem has got the bulk of it. Usually, in my opinion, the guy who gets the bulk of the carries is usually the guy we call the starter because we’re treating him as the starter. If he’s not out there the first play, I know no one else calls him the starter because that’s what matters, I guess, to be called a starter. Tevin started out that way this year. I think he handles it very well. I think Raheem is very comfortable in his situation when he comes in and doesn’t have a problem with it. There’s a different element to all of them. I do like having Tevin out there because the way he hits holes, he brings a little different physicality to the game. But, I like what all our backs do.”
Again, Shanahan likes Coleman as the “starter” for no discernible reason, but Mostert is the true starter based on carries, as was obvious down the stretch. But Mostert will now have to prepare to shoulder that load for a full season of around 200 carries. Including the playoffs, he carried the ball 190 times last season, but just 137 times in the regular season.
He’s doing so by building muscle and working on other parts of his game. Tasked with receiver duties in college at Purdue, Mostert said he takes serious pride in receiving and is working on his hands and footwork there. He was sent an offensive line strip (which shows the different locations of offensive linemen) by the 49ers coaching staff and is currently adding weight to his frame, which was listed as 197 pounds last year.
“Right now, I’m just building myself up,” Mostert said. “I’m actually gaining some more muscle, which is kind of bizarre just because I haven’t really been able to think about gaining muscle because I’ve already had muscle like that. But just trying to incorporate those things into my daily workouts so that way I’m able to take those hits and be one of those guys that are getting 200 carries. I gotta get prepared for that, and the only way I know how is to get bulky and stronger.”