At this time last year, Raheem Mostert was on crutches, unable to walk without help.
A member of the San Francisco 49ers at the time, Mostert suffered a Week 1 knee cartilage injury against the Detroit Lions that was supposed to sideline the running back for several weeks. Mostert, however, eventually underwent season-ending surgery and embarked on the arduous road to rehabilitation.
“The first seven weeks after the operation, I was unable to walk,” Mostert said. “And that drained me a lot emotionally, because I’m a ball carrier. I run fast. I throw the ball. Everything is always able to run and capitalize. For the first seven weeks it was a challenge. And then having my family too, just trying to take care of them and support them, it was all a mental block.
“But moving forward, I was just thinking about the outcome, how nice it would be to be back on the pitch and participating in team activities and all the little things that go along with it so that I comes to the regular season.”
Mostert, 30, not only returned for the start of the 2022 season, but in recent weeks he has effectively taken on the role of point guard for the Dolphins (4-3), who will face the Lions (1-5) on the Sunday road. In a Week 5 loss to the New York Jets, Mostert rushed for 113 yards, his best since a 220-yard performance in the 2019 NFC Championship Game.
Although Mostert is still coming back after essentially a year out of the game, his teammates and coaches say he already looks like the running back who is arguably the fastest player in the NFL.
“Raheem is a speed demon,” said fullback Alec Ingold, “and it’s so smooth when you watch him work, week after week, day after day.”
In the Dolphins’ Week 7 home win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mostert scored Miami’s only touchdown, on an 8-yard catch on the first drive. Once he reached the end zone, Mostert dove belly first to the ground, making a swimming motion with his hands and jumping to his feet as if riding a surfboard.
The touchdown celebration is a nod to Mostert’s roots growing in New Smyrna Beach, which is located on Florida’s east-central coast, about 80 miles northeast of Orlando. Mostert surfed in one of the best surf towns in the country, dubbed the “Shark Bite Capital of the World.”
“I didn’t have a stable lifestyle,” he says. “My parents, I couldn’t rely on them sometimes but I grew up in a place where you just have to work hard.” As a teenager, Mostert not only surfed, but also played soccer and ran track.
“I love it because it takes me away from everything,” he said of surfing. “I’m on the ocean, just me alone and me with a few buddies, just trying to learn little techniques. I try to understand what they are doing. And just being one with the ocean, I think that was what appealed to me the most.
Mostert and Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said they see similarities between surfing and running back.
“We say, ‘press every stroke, one gap at a time,’ and it’s kind of like riding a wave – surfing,” McDaniel said. “Because you take it right there and then all of a sudden you go down, but then the wave brings you back.”
One day Mostert was approached by an agent from Billabong, a surf apparel company, with a sponsorship offer. But playing in the waves was just a pastime; his passions were athletics and football – sports where he stood out at New Smyrna Beach High School. Mostert won district titles as a hurdler and sprinter, and he was also a dynamic receiver and kick returner.
Mostert committed to Purdue University, attracted to the school after a visit with former NFL safety Ricardo Allen, who is a boilermaker, and from nearby Daytona Beach. Allen now works as a special teams assistant with the Dolphins.
At Purdue, Mostert found a role as a return specialist before moving to running back as a junior. He also won Big Ten titles as a sprinter in the 60-meter, 100-meter, and 200-meter races. He became the first member of his family to graduate from college.
Mostert was not selected in the 2015 NFL Draft. He spent the next few years bouncing from team to team, mostly as a returner. He had short stints with half a dozen teams, including the Dolphins – just when current Lions coach Dan Campbell was named interim coach at Miami – before joining the 49ers in 2016 Mostert spent the next five seasons in San Francisco alongside McDaniel. , who served as running play coordinator before being elevated to offensive coordinator.
Frequent injuries limited his role. But when healthy, Mostert was one of the most effective and explosive fullbacks in the league. He rushed for a career-high 772 yards in 2019 for a 49ers team that qualified for the Super Bowl. At Mostert 5.39 yards per rush average is the most in NFL history among running backs with 250 career attempts.
“It was just the time aspect, and I knew my time was coming,” Mostert said. “Whether I believe it or not, I believed wholeheartedly that I deserved to be in the league and that I deserved to play and that I would be an NFL running back and that I was going to do great things. I’ve always wanted to hunt for a gold jacket. I guess that helped me too. But my wife, she helped me. She’s a person with a lot of spirit and willpower, so I owe her credit, she helped me through a lot.
Although Mostert’s one-year absence last season meant he only played nine games in the past two years, he signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Dolphins. during the first week of free will. The fact that cornerback Xavien Howard underwent a similar knee procedure gave Mostert confidence that he would be able to return to his pre-injury form.
And despite the severity of the injury — in a July tweet, Mostert said he was told he ‘may never be back on the pitch again’ — he was allowed to practice in the training camp.
The Dolphins were expected to split the backfield workload after also signing Chase Edmonds. But with Mostert’s familiarity with the outside zone pattern and the tough run, he’s been taking the majority of the shots in the backfield recently. Mostert leads the team with 388 rushing yards and was the leading kick returner.
The Dolphins’ revamped offense has yet to really take off — and that includes a running game that ranks 29th in yards per game. Part of the key to unlocking their potential is that Mostert continues to feel like himself. And that can mean showing off your track speed in the open field. Mostert’s top speed of 22.73 miles per hour in 2020 remains the fastest for a running back since 2018.
“I’m at about 20 miles per hour,” Mostert said of his top speed in a game this season. “I tweaked and worked my way through the line and tried to break something.”
This story was originally published October 29, 2022 9:21 a.m.