Raheem Mostert came into 49ers training camp as an afterthought. He was buried on the depth chart at running back behind Carlos Hyde, Tim Hightower, Joe Williams, Kapri Bibbs and even Matt Breida, an undrafted free agent.
But after three games of the exhibition season, Mostert suddenly looks as if he might play himself onto the roster for Game 1 of the regular season.
Mostert, who came into the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Purdue in 2015, played for the Browns, Dolphins, Ravens and Bears before landing with the 49ers for three games in 2016. His contributions last season: two kickoff returns for 35 yards and one carry for 6 yards.
Yet the 5-foot-10, 195-pounder has shown the Niners he has speed and an ability to make things happen with the ball in his hands. He leads the 49ers in rushing this summer with 115 yards on 19 carries, has two catches for 104 yards and two kickoff returns for 42 yards.
Against the Vikings in the team’s third exhibition game Sunday night, he had two touchdowns, including one in which he turned a short screen pass into an 87-yard play.
The analytic website Pro Football Focus selected Mostert as its top running back for the week, noting: “Mostert was outstanding … as he totaled 130 yards from scrimmage while scoring once through the air and another on the ground. His aerial score was off a screen pass that saw him blaze past a number of Vikings defenders and break a tackle on his way to an 87-yard touchdown. He forced three missed tackles on just six total touches.”
Pro Football Focus grades running backs and receivers on their ability to be elusive, and PFF noted Mostert’s elusive rating vs. Minnesota was “ridiculous.”
Mostert’s ability to return kicks and be a gunner on special teams could help in his bid to make the roster.
“(Special teams) is a big part of my game,” Mostert told Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com. “I want to go out there and change field position and show what I can do. I make tackles. I return kicks and block. I want to go out and give it my all.”
Hyde is a lock to be the starter this season, and Breida also has looked strong. As a draft pick, the 49ers may be willing to keep Williams, too. But Hightower and Bibbs appear to be in jeopardy.
With one exhibition game to go – Thursday night against the Chargers – head coach Kyle Shanahan has liked what he’s seen of Mostert.
“He’s done a good job on special teams so I wanted to give him a little more playing times today, see what he can do on offense,” Shanahan said after Sunday’s game. “And from what I saw out there, he did a real good job.”