Last summer, I wrote that it wasn’t looking good for Raheem Mostert to make the Niners roster, despite two years as an solid NFL kick returner, since his official position (running back) was overloaded and he wasn’t a four-core special teams player. Plus, he was fighting a soft-tissue injury in training camp, which was horrible timing for a guy scraping along at the bottom of various NFL rosters.
His situation looks much better today, despite an MCL sprain that ended his season in late November. Coach Shanahan and ST coordinator Richard Hightower found ways to use him both as a running back (6 carries for 30 yards) and, most importantly, as a dominant gunner on the punt return team, with 8 tackles in 11 games.
Everybody knew Mostert was fast, but Hightower taught him how to tackle. During his active games, the Niners allowed the fewest yards per punt (2.45) of any team during the last 9 NFL seasons. Second best Dallas gave up almost twice as many (4.5). And those numbers got notably worse after Mostert went to the IR list.
Age: 26 (just had his birthday on April 9)
Experience: 2 accrued seasons, since he only played one game in 2016. According to Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com you must play at least six games in a season to qualify for an accrued year.
Weight: 197 pounds
Mostert was an exclusive rights free agent, after playing out his two-year contract in 2016 and 2017. They signed him to a one-year contract on March 12, 2018. He’ll earn $705,000 and has no guaranteed or bonus money at all. So if the team cuts him, they keep all of it.
Why he might improve in 2018
Mostert blossomed under the new coaching staff last year, becoming a key special teams player with RB potential. His MCL sprain is not typically a long-lasting or debilitating one, and at 26 he should be at his physical peak, with some extra time to heal and rest up last December.
Mostert has been around the league long enough to know how every thing works. Specifically, he knows that this year is the best opportunity he will ever have to establish himself as more than a bottom-of-the-roster scrapper — and get paid real money.
Why he might regress in 2018
Mostert is coming off a MCL injury and isn’t getting any younger. But if he doesn’t play a key role on the team this year, it will be because the team’s talent is improving rapidly.
Mostert’s 4.34 is still the fastest among the team’s RBs, but the rest aren’t far behind. Free agent Jerick McKinnon and last year’s redshirt rookie Joe Williams ran 4.41, and Matt Breida’s better yet at 4.39.
On special teams, every new player is competition, and 2nd round pick Dante Pettis had nine punt return touchdowns — the all-time FBS college record. In addition to several speedy skill players, such as Pettis and WR Richie James, John Lynch has mentioned safety Marcel Harris and CB D.J. Reed as special teams standouts. Reed returned both punts and kicks at Kansas State, scoring a touchdown on each.
On the other hand, Mostert didn’t return a single punt last year, and he was the backup kick returner to Victor Bolden Jr. He now makes his money as a gunner with the potential to play some RB in case of injury. His only concern is that John Lynch is acquiring lots of speedy players, and ST coach Hightower might develop one or more into good gunners.
Odds of making the roster
Mostert is a near-lock. He needs to stay ahead of the fresh blood to hold his role on the team, but last year the coaching staff proved that he has lots of untapped potential and that they know how to unlock it.
Update: fixed typo, h/t Burnin Davis