The 49ers’ cast of running backs this past spring looked deep and talented. Matt Breida, Jerick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman were at the top of a group of fast, versatile backs were billed as one of the NFL’s deepest units.
Raheem Mostert was mentioned, too, but as a bit player.
Obviously, that’s evolved.
The former special teams standout had the game of his life Sunday in San Francisco’s 37-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game, rushing for a franchise-playoff-record 220 yards on 29 carries. He averaged 7.6 yards per rush and scored four touchdowns as the 49ers ground attack continued to dominate, as it had a week earlier in a victory over Minnesota.
Mostert’s role grew larger this season the more head coach Kyle Shanahan saw of him. After McKinnon was released and Coleman and Breida worked through early-season injuries, Mostert got more playing time.
He had a huge game in a loss to the Ravens in early December, carrying 19 times for a career-best 146 yards, then rushed for 50 or more yards in the six games since, sharing snaps with Coleman. He ended the regular season with 137 carries – he’d only had 42 in his career previously – for 772 yards, a 5.6 average and eight touchdowns.
It was quite a breakthrough for the former Purdue football and track athlete who’d had previous short stops with Philadelphia, Miami, Baltimore, Cleveland, the New York Jets and Chicago Bears after coming into the league in 2015 as an undrafted free agent.
And, as Lorenzo Reyes of USA Today pointed out Monday, Mostert still is looking for his first career start in the NFL. That could come in the Super Bowl on Feb. 2 against the Kansas City Chiefs. Mostert’s slashing style and breakaway speed seem perfectly suited to Shanahan’s running attack.
Niners tight end George Kittle says Mostert is more explosive than opponents realize.
"He just keeps grinding every single day. He attacks it every single day," Kittle told Chris Biderman of the Sacramento Bee. "When he finally gets his opportunity, he just sprints through people’s faces. Guys take angles at him and they realize angles aren’t good enough because he’s too fast. The burst of speed he runs with, the physicality he runs with, everything he’s got going for him right now is on him."
Mostert and the 49ers take on the Chiefs on Sunday, Feb. 2 in the Super Bowl in Miami. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. Pacific time.