49ers roster 2021: Raheem Mostert faces uncertain future

San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert (31) Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert (31) Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports /

Raheem Mostert has been a major part of the 49ers offense the last two years, but that tenure could be coming to a close in 2021.

One can only wonder the kind of career San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert could have had if a team, one of the many with which he’s played since joining the league as an undrafted free agent out of Purdue in 2015, identified him as a legitimate rushing threat much earlier.

While head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch turned over the bulk of the roster they inherited back in 2017, Mostert was one of the few who was kept.

It’s a good thing.

Even though Mostert still wasn’t much of an offensive weapon that year and in 2018, his prowess on special teams was well known. And in 2019, he broke out onto the national stage as the Niners’ top ground weapon en route to the Super Bowl.

Raheem Mostert Rushing & Receiving Table
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1 yr1 yrBAL7000000
1 yr1 yrCHI2000000
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1 yr1 yrMIA1000000

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
Generated 7/8/2021.

Yet a slew of injuries in 2020 suggested Mostert couldn’t be an every-down back. Then, in the wake of San Francisco adding Ohio State running back Trey Sermon early in the 2021 NFL Draft, one could see Mostert’s days with the 49ers are likely limited.

And this upcoming season could potentially be Mostert’s last donning the red and gold.

A free agent in 2022, the 29-year-old Mostert might be settling into a year in which he hands off the top-rushing baton to a player like Sermon.

But that doesn’t mean Mostert will be a non-factor for Shanahan’s offense this season.

Why Raheem Mostert has a massive year for 49ers in 2021

While his 2020 injuries weren’t a good sign, Mostert can at least take comfort knowing nearly every offensive starter from the Niners suffered some sort of similar fate. San Francisco already rested him for a good chunk of organized team activities to help heal a minor knee injury, so the hope will be he’s fully fresh for the start of the regular season.

There shouldn’t be a shortage of motivation either. Considering he’s at the age where many running backs ponder calling it a career, it’s likely whatever contract he receives next will be his last within the NFL ranks.

If Mostert has two things going in his favor, it’s the combination of his experience within Shanahan’s offense and the speed element, perhaps only matched by one other running back on the roster, rookie tailback Elijah Mitchell.

Mostert owned the NFL’s top-two ball-carrying times in 2020, per Next Gen Stats — 23.09 miles per hour in Week 2 and 22.73 miles per hour in Week 1.

Shanahan loves speed, and Mostert has it. That alone gives reason for Mostert to see plenty of opportunities this season as a home-run threat.

Why Raheem Mostert regresses with 49ers in 2021

Sermon is likely to take away some rush opportunities from Mostert over the course of 2021, and the rookie already received first-team snaps during OTAs while Mostert was out.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering Mostert was vying for touches alongside no-longer-49ers tailbacks Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon a year ago. But it’s still hard to overlook the fact Mostert missed half of last year with an array of injuries.

If there’s a knock against Mostert, especially recently, it’s the notion he hasn’t been able to stay fully healthy. Even when he’s been available, Shanahan has often reported Mostert was banged up or limited, casting some doubts upon whether or not the running back will be a key X-factor for the Niners offense this season.

While unlikely, there’s a chance San Francisco wants to invest more in Sermon for the upcoming years, relying less on Mostert, particularly early in the season in an attempt to keep him fresh for a playoff run.

True, that might be the overall best thing for the 49ers’ playoff chances, but it could ultimately cut into Mostert’s overall season-long impact.

Projected role with 49ers this season

Mostert enters the final year of his renegotiated contract in 2021 and carries zero in guaranteed money for this year. If cut, the Niners would be hit with a dead-money charge of $458,334 but with $3.15 million in cap savings, per Over the Cap.

It doesn’t seem likely San Francisco would do this. But if Mostert flames out during training camp and Sermon thrives, the thought of Mostert being off the roster by Week 1 can’t be ruled out entirely.

Read More: 3 potentially surprising roster cuts 49ers could make before Week 1

What’s more likely, however, is the 49ers want to make sure Mostert is a regular part of the running back rotation. Sure, there are open-ended questions about the depth. But Mostert and Sermon should be projected to assume significant roles.

A plausible situation is Shanahan featuring Sermon early in games, not unlike what he did with Coleman in 2019 and 2020, then putting Mostert out there in key situations during the second half after opposing defenses have been tired out a bit.

Mostert’s speed still isn’t slumping, so the home-run scoring threat is an X-factor the Niners would be wise to deploy.

Even if 2021 marks the final time San Francisco can enjoy this kind of scenario.

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