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Raheem Mostert was the best RB in the league with eight defenders in the box

Mostert led the NFL in yards per carry against eight-man boxes. We went over three runs that highlight Raheem’s value to the 49ers.

Carolina Panthers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

On Tuesday, we ranked the five most under-appreciated San Francisco 49ers. At the top of the article, we mentioned the votes were from the fans, not me. My list would look like: Laken Tomlinson, Fred Warner (he’s that good), Mike McDaniel (cheating, I know), Raheem Mostert, and, based on his first half, Kwon Alexander. Each person contributes so much more than the box score will tell you.

Speaking of Mostert, it’s “underdog” week at SB Nation, and there’s no better underdog story than Mostert. He was with the Eagles, Dolphins, Ravens, Browns, Jets, and Bears, all within two seasons before they released him, and Mostert joined the 49ers. Now, Raheem is known as one of the hardest-working players on the team. That hard work turned into carries last season. Mostert took his opportunities and ran away with the Niners RB1 job.

ESPN’s Matt Bowen tweeted a stat that drives home Mostert’s value. Raheem led all NFL running backs in yards per rush vs. 8+ defenders in the box:

1. Mostert — 6.21

2. Aaron Jones — 5.60

3. Derrick Henry — 5.40

4. Adrian Peterson — 5.31

5. Dalvin Cook — 4.28

Nearly two full yards separate Mostert and fifth place. Kyle Shanahan’s misdirection runs leave defenses confused with all of the pre-snap motion. Mostert is known for his world-class speed, and that sprinter speed shows up when a defender thinks he has an angle. Mostert is so much more than a track star playing football, though. Stylistically, Mostert screams former Texans UDFA Arian Foster. Your first reaction is probably, “Mostert is so much faster.” I’m not referring to traits, but how the two run. The way Mostert moves glides and cuts all scream Foster, which is as high of a compliment as anyone can give a running back. Bowen showed one run in an eight-man box, here are three others that highlight how effective Mostert was in 2019.

A home run threat

The goal is to stay away from highlights during these breakdowns as those plays are extreme, but this long touchdown run shows how effortless Mostert makes it look and what happens if the defense makes a mistake. The beauty of “wide zone” paired with motion is that the defense has to play a guessing game for a split-second. For Mostert, that’s all he needs. The motion throws off No. 59, who dives inside and essentially blocks himself. Tomlinson, the left guard, can’t cut off the defensive tackle. For 90% of running backs, this is a tackle for loss:

No. 47 takes himself out of the play as well after he sees Raheem’s aiming point is wide. Daniel Brunskill and Ben Garland pave the way, Tre Boston does what Tre Boston does at free safety, and Mostert trots in for a 41-yard touchdown.

Balance is key

This next run is also a touchdown but highlights one of Mostert’s best traits: his balance. The following play was a 15-yard score:

Mostert did not bounce the run outside, either.

I want to shoutout Kyle Juszczyk on Daniel Brunskill on this play, for different reasons. Juice shows off the awareness that makes thee Niners run game go, while Brunskill once again drives the defender several yards out of his gap. The defensive tackle starts outside of one hash and almost ends up on the other hash. Come on now.

Anyway, the 49ers are running their bread and butter, “sift zone,” and Mostert has two unblocked defenders standing in his way of the end zone:

Green Bay found out the hard way, twice, that arm tackles won’t bring Mostert down. Mostert’s balance and ability to run through arm tackles was ninth in the NFL during the second half of the season in yards after contact, despite not having anywhere near the number of carries as some of the league leaders.

Changing it up

Mostert had a 40-yard touchdown run against an eight-man box against Baltimore. The theme is consistent here: if he gets past the first level, that’s all she wrote. The more success Mostert had, the more teams started to load the box. When defenses do that, a defender is bound to get through the offensive line unblocked. In the play below, a good football player makes a play. Unfortunately for him, so does Mostert:

What stands out is that once Mostert has to change directions, he’s doesn’t panic. Some runners would try and cut all the way back across the field. Mostert not only stays on his path, but he also gains an additional five yards after contact. This run isn’t the highlight that you’ve seen above, but it’s Mostert’s most impressive run shown yet.

Mostert expects to have a bigger role in 2020. Mostert told the media on Wednesday he’s not only added weight but has worked hard to improve on his passing-catching skills. The 49ers offensive line deserves a ton of credit in each of these clips. That unit, along with Mostert, figures to be better this season. If Mostert does surpass 200 carries, in this offense? It’s hard to imagine him not being among the league leaders in rushing yards and touchdowns.