Kyle Shanahan Will Soon Need to Make a Difficult Decision on a Former 49ers Playoff Hero

If a Week 1 victory over the Detroit Lions is a sign of things to come, then San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan might understandably be optimistic about what the next few months hold.

But as Shanahan knows, happiness is often a fleeting feeling in the NFL. For everything that went right in the season’s opening game, the veteran offensive mind now has to progress through the coming weeks without one of his most dynamic weapons.

The 49ers will be without running back Raheem Mostert for the rest of the 2021 season

Veteran 49ers running back Raheem Mostert has used his blazing speed to give opponents fits when he’s been healthy. Unfortunately for the veteran running back, his injury problems are at it again.

Mostert entered the 2020 season with high expectations after rushing for 336 yards and five touchdowns on 6.3 yards per carry during the 2019 NFL Playoffs. However, knee and ankle injuries limited him to 521 yards and two touchdowns in eight games a year ago.

Now, the Purdue product is headed to injured reserve again, this time with another knee problem. Mostert picked up 20 yards on two carries in the Week 1 victory at Detroit before leaving with what doctors determined to be torn knee cartilage.

Shanahan told reporters on Monday, Sept. 13, that he expected his talented running back to return in eight weeks. However, Mostert later tweeted that he would undergo season-ending surgery.

Shanahan and the 49ers will need to make a difficult decision in 2022 about Mostert’s future

San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert in 2021.
The San Francisco 49ers will need to make a difficult decision regarding talented running back Raheem Mostert | Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

We said it earlier, and we’ll say it again: Mostert has been a terrifying weapon for the 49ers when healthy over the last couple of seasons. He famously gashed the Green Bay Packers’ defense for 220 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the 2019 NFC Championship Game. The veteran running back showcased his speed when he rushed for an 80-yard touchdown against the New York Jets last September.

However, Mostert has suffered numerous injuries, from forearm fractures to recurring knee problems, since the start of the 2017 season. He’s already guaranteed to miss time in a contract season — and had he stayed healthy, the 29-year-old running back could have positioned himself for a solid payday next spring. Although his age and injury history would likely have kept him from securing a massive contract, he still would have had an opportunity to do well for himself.

Eventually, whether it’s later this fall or ahead of the 2022 season, Shanahan will turn the starting quarterback role over to Trey Lance. The North Dakota State product will need weapons when that time comes, and he’ll almost certainly take over with George Kittle, arguably the NFL’s top tight end, still making plays and dominating defenses. As for running back, that is another story entirely.

It’s now fair to ask if Mostert will be a part of Lance’s early years as a starting quarterback. As explosive as the running back is, he’s also someone the team has trouble relying on to stay healthy. At what point will the 49ers decide there is more benefit in finding a younger, cheaper, and more durable running back?

The 49ers may have discovered Mostert’s long-term replacement

It’s entirely possible that Mostert might be taking carries for another team in 2022. If that does prove to be the case, the 49ers may have at least discovered his replacement.

Elijah Mitchell, a sixth-round pick from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown in Week 1. The rookie stepped in after Mostert’s injury and looked right at home against a mediocre Lions defense.

The 49ers also have second-year running back JaMycal Hasty, who had a 3-yard rushing touchdown in the opener, and third-round pick Trey Sermon on the active roster. Interestingly, Mitchell served as the backup in Week 1 while Sermon, the Ohio State product, wasn’t activated.

For now, Shanahan needs one of those running backs to fill the void that Mostert’s injury created. If things finally work in the 49ers’ favor, the replacement may find himself as the long-term starter going forward.

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