The 49ers have refused to pay Raheem Mostert a running back’s salary. They seem to think he’s a replaceable product of their system, even though he scored 15 touchdowns and led all NFL running backs in yards per carry last season.
Are the 49ers right? Is Mostert a mere system running back? And how can we tell?
The NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger tweeted a fascinating stat -- running backs with the most combined “explosive” plays in 2019 (“explosive” meaning runs or catches that gained 20 or more yards).
This stat should show who the best running backs in the league are. Because while a coach or an offensive line can create holes and make four, five, maybe six yards of running room, special running backs turn those opportunities into long gains and touchdowns.
The running backs with the most explosive plays last season, including the playoffs, were Derrick Henry (16), Nick Chubb (15), Saquon Barkley (14), Dalvin Cook (14), Christian McCaffrey (13). Most people would consider those five running backs the best five in the NFL.
Which brings us to Mostert.
Mostert had nine explosive plays last season, including the playoffs. But he touched the ball only 207 times. Henry, the league leader in explosive plays, touched the ball a whopping 409 times. Meaning Henry had an explosive play once every 25.6 touches -- excellent -- while Mostert had one once every 23 touches. Advantage: Mostert.
By Baldinger’s standards, Mostert is no system back -- he’s a special running back, arguably top five in the entire league.
When you take a close look at Mostert’s numbers from last season, he’s even more impressive. He scored 12 touchdowns after Week Freaking 10. George Kittle, the best player on the team, has scored 12 touchdowns in his career.
Mostert scored a touchdown once every 13.8 times he got the ball in 2019. And he wasn’t a goal-line running back. Only eight of his 207 touches were inside the opponent’s 10-yard line last season. Both Tevin Coleman and Jeff Wilson Jr. received more touches in that area of the field.
Usually, running backs who score lots of touchdowns receive tons of goal-line carries. But Mostert’s touchdowns averaged 18.8 yards per play. He usually scored from very very far out.
Which other running back in the NFL scores from far out so frequently?
Of course, Kyle Shanahan certainly deserves major credit for Mostert’s success. Lots of running backs have played well in Shanahan’s system throughout the years. But in 12 seasons as an offensive coordinator or a head coach, Shanahan’s offenses have ranked in the top half of the NFL in scoring just four times: 2009, 2012, 2016 and 2019.
Shanahan historically has been much better at generating yards than points. He needs a player who converts touches into touchdowns at a high rate.
Get over yourself, Kyle. Give Mostert an extra $2.5 million in 2020. You two need each other. You make each other better.