49ers running back Raheem Mostert has the potential to be a top-five rusher in 2020
He’s been on seven different teams since going undrafted in 2015, and before last year the majority of his snaps came on special teams. In 2019, he established himself as more than a special teams ace and someone who started demanding more and more carries in a crowded backfield. From Week 12 on he scored at least one touchdown in each game the rest of the season, then scoring a total of five in the playoffs. And all of this success is headlined of course by the NFC Championship game where Mostert ran for 220 yards on 29 carries and scored four touchdowns.
But does catching fire at the end of 2019 mean he can become a top-five rusher in the NFL in 2020?
Initially, it felt far fetched. But when you break down the numbers, there is reason to believe it could be a possibility.
Top 5 NFL leading rushers in 2019
1. Derrick Henry — 1,540 yards on 303 carries
2. Nick Chubb — 1,494 yards on 298 carries
3. Christian McCaffrey — 1,387 yards on 287 carries
4. Ezekiel Elliot — 1,357 yards on 301 carries
5. Chris Carson — 1,230 yards on 278 carries
26. Raheem Mostert — 772 yards — 137 carries
These are the top-five rushers from last season compared to Mostert, who finished at 26. Now the low-hanging fruit for this argument is to look at the yards per carry (YPC), which is significant in this case.
Yards Per Carry in 2019
Derrick Henry: 5.08
Nick Chubb: 5.01
Christian McCaffrey: 4.8
Ezekiel Elliot: 4.5
Chris Carson: 4.4
Raheem Mostert: 5.6
You can see Mostert had higher YPC than all of the top-five rushers last season. In fact, Mostert led the NFL in YPC for running backs. And from Week 12 through Week 17, when Mostert was more of a focal point in the offense, that number jumped all the way up to 6.05 YPC.
Now it’s probably not realistic to expect him to hit that YPC average again in 2020. But a huge drop off isn’t to be expected either. The offensive line should be even better with the addition of left tackle Trent Williams and some young players being more experienced, like offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill. You can argue all the important pieces are coming back, so in general, the offense should take even more steps forward.
I wanted to find out how many carries it would take Mostert to reach the No. 5 spot from last season, which was 1,230 yards, to see if it was realistic. At 5.6 YPC, it would have taken Mostert only 219 carries. To have that many carries, he would have to average a mere 13.6 carries a game over 16 games. Last season, that would have made him 18th in the NFL for rushing attempts.
But like I said, we probably can’t count on him having an average that high again. What if we scale it back over half a yard, assuming he averages an even 5.0 yards a carry? He would have needed 246 carries to reach the mark at that YPC, which means averaging 15.4 carries a game. That would have put him at 11th in the league for total rushing attempts.
Does that many carries per game seem unrealistic in a head coach Kyle Shanahan offense? Or after watching Mostert run the ball late in the year, is it crazy to think he will average 5.0 yards a carry with Shanahan calling the plays?
Let’s say you are still feeling pessimistic about some of those numbers, and take it down a little further. Take the average YPC for the top-five rushers from last season. That would be 4.75 YPC. To reach 1,230 yards at that average, Mostert would need to reach 259 carries and average 16.1 carries a game to get there. A total of 259 attempts would have put him at eighth for that category.
A total of 1,200 yards is actually a pretty high number for the No. 5 rusher in the NFL. 2019 was the first time that has happened since 2016. Of course, it’s not a perfect science, and there is a possibility 1,230 yards would not guarantee a top-five rusher, but the odds are in your favor if you do.
For this prediction to come true, it will come down to how many carries Shanahan commits to Mostert. We know the 49ers boasted one of the best running attacks in 2019, ranking No. 2 overall in the NFL, and many believe it will be in the same dominant tier in 2020.
So what are the X-factors that could keep Mostert from getting enough carries?
If you are like me, the one thing you have been critical about with Shanahan is the mysterious loyalty he shows to running back Tevin Coleman despite a very underwhelming season in 2019. Consistently, even when other running backs looked more explosive and produced more rushing yards, Coleman somehow would start the game and get carries before Shanahan would give in and put Mostert into the game.
One would hope after re-evaluating film this offseason, Shanahan will have a shift in how he distributes playing time in the run game. But if he doesn’t, Coleman may pose the biggest threat to Mostert’s playing time and overall production in 2020.
Running back Jerrick McKinnon has been on the 49ers roster for two seasons now and not seen a single snap. A torn ACL in 2018 training camp and in 2019 a flare-up of that same injury kept him sidelined.
But we know general manager John Lynch threw a lot of money his way because Shanahan was salivating at what he thinks McKinnon could be in his offense. If McKinnon can stay healthy and be anything close to what they expected from him in 2018, Mostert won’t come close to approaching even 200 rushing attempts this year. If nothing else because Shanahan will want to make up for lost time and give him every opportunity to prove what he is capable of.
If it plays out this way, the carries will be divided up between the two running backs, and possibly three if Coleman is still in the equation as well. That is not a great recipe for one guy to produce a bunch of stats.
2020 Defensive Adjustments
The NFL has taken note of what San Francisco can do in the run game. It was on full display in the playoffs, and defensive coordinators who face the 49ers in 2020 have already begun scheming how to stop them. What is so tough is how effective they utilize play action, and no matter what you think about quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, he has put the team on his back and led them to victory on more than one occasion.
Sorry about that, New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals fans.
However, there is a good chance teams will sell out more and more to stop the run in order to force Jimmy G to try and beat them with his arm. And after the NFC Championship game, this is what I expect to be the case in 2020. That doesn’t mean San Francisco won’t be able to run the ball. But football is a numbers game, and as a play-caller, you have to take what the defense gives. So if there are eight defenders consistently crowding the box, Garoppolo’s attempts to go up while Mostert’s to go down.
Will Mostert be a part of a committee again? Or will he finally be handed the reins as the workhorse? If it is the latter, then the path to being a top-five rusher in the NFL could be in his grasp.