Trying to predict how the San Francisco 49ers running back competition will play out is now an impossible task. Raheem Mostert can be thanked for adding to that conundrum.
The situation was already murky prior to Sunday's preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings. Matt Breida, Joe Williams and Tim Hightower appeared to be jockeying for spots on the depth chart behind starter Pierre Garçon. Now Mostert has forced his way into the conversation.
The third-year running back posted 130 total yards and two touchdowns in Minnesota. His first score came on an improbable 87-yard touchdown catch. Mostert caught a short screen pass to the left on 3rd-and-23, set up his blockers and ran away from the Vikings defense.
"It's first down then touchdown," Mostert said postgame, "that's what "Bobby T" (49ers running backs coach Bobby Turner) taught us, and that's what we take to heart."
Mostert added a 4-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. He finished the game with 26 rushing yards on four carries and 104 receiving yards on two catches.
"He did a good job, you know especially that long screen – I think it was like, 3rd-and-20-plus, to make that play and the speed he has, you can see his talent," said head coach Kyle Shanahan. "He did a good job running the ball too."
The third-year running back out of Purdue also showed well in the preseason opener against the Kansas City Chiefs. Mostert ran the ball 15 times for 89 yards and helped drain the clock in the fourth quarter to secure a 49ers win.
Mostert's odds at a roster spot are aided by his ability on special teams. He's been the team's No. 1 kick returner during the preseason. His two returns have gone for 42 total yards. In 2016, Mostert returned two kicks for 35 yards for the 49ers. He also had one 33-yard punt return on this trick play.
"If you can play special teams for us and you do a good job on offense or defense, it gives you a very good chance," Shanahan said. "He's done a good job on special teams, so I wanted to give him a little more playing time today, see what he can do on offense and from what I saw out there, he did a real good job."
Mostert knows what looms this week. The 49ers will be tasked with cutting down the roster to 53 players by Saturday at 1 p.m. PT. Mostert originally signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2015. He then made stops with the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, New York Jets and Chicago Bears before arriving in the Bay Area.
The running back was signed to San Francisco's practice squad on Nov. 28 2016 and was later promoted to the active roster on Dec. 30. Mostert hopes his time with the 49ers is only just beginning.
"I've been through this before, and the nerves haven't quite hit me yet," he said. "I am just going to go out and perform. I am going to go out and do what I do, that's the only thing I can control.
"You have to be confident, and have a little swagger. I have to rely on myself, and I know what I can do. I have to play my role. If it is not this team it will be another one, I've been on this road before."
Shanahan and the rest of the coaching staff now have the unenviable task of making roster decisions. Whichever route they go, the 49ers are sure to cut a talented running back this weekend.