Jerry Rice has high praise for 49ers' Raheem Mostert after NFC title win

Jerry Rice has high praise for 49ers' Raheem Mostert after NFC title win

SANTA CLARA – Though one can spend hours debating which 49er is the greatest of all time, any valid conversation involves Jerry Rice, whose collection of NFL records can fill a warehouse.

No less an authority than the late, legendary coach Bill Walsh described Rice as “the greatest player, ever.”

For at least one night, Rice seemed to step aside for a player most 49er fans would not have recognized a few weeks ago. He’s a member of the Raheem Mostert fan club after the running back’s marvelous performance in a 37-20 win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game to help the 49ers advance to Super Bowl LIV where they will face the Kansas City Chiefs.

“He’s been proving himself all season,” Rice told NBC Sports Bay Area after Mostert rushed for a franchise-record 220 yards. “I love his athletic ability, the way he lets things develop and reads exactly what the defense is doing. And then he always makes the right cuts.

“And he’s very physical when he carries the football. He does it all.”

Mostert, 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, entered training camp in July as San Francisco’s top special-teams player and its fourth-string running back. But with the top three running backs battling injuries, the five-year veteran emerged as a formidable weapon.

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By November, Mosert was the team’s primary ball-carrier.

“He doesn’t look like he’s 195 pounds; I know I wouldn’t look at him and think he’s 190 pounds,” Rice said. “Not with his physicality. He takes it to a defense. He attacks.

“And with his vision, man ... he’s the man.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday) .

Raheem Mostert's long path from NFL castoff to 49ers' postseason hero

Raheem Mostert's long path from NFL castoff to 49ers' postseason hero

SANTA CLARA  -- The search for the champion among champions in the 49ers’ locker room Sunday night ended in what many NFL personnel experts surely considered the unlikeliest of places, at the cubicle of a man they never knew and barely saw.

Raheem Mostert spent two years sliding past their eyes and through their fingers before finally being dropped into the gift bag former 49ers coach Chip Kelly would leave behind for the new regime.

Three years and change later, Mostert has etched his name in the NFL record book and become the toast of the 49er Faithful.

With Mostert amassing 220 yards on 29 carries, accounting for 226 of the team’s 358 total yards – and all four of their touchdowns – the 49ers sprinted past the Green Bay Packers and into Super Bowl LIV with a 37-20 victory in the NFC Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium.

Mostert’s brilliance allowed coach Kyle Shanahan to bet on a game plan that would not have dared enter the fertile mind of his father, Mike Shanahan, and most certainly not the most revered coach in 75 seasons of 49ers history. Bill Walsh would have frowned at the mention of throwing eight passes in 60 minutes of action.

Shanahan and his quarterback, Jimmy Garappolo, got away with it because Mostert spent the day piercing and dashing through Green Bay’s defense, culminating in the game of his life – and, given his perilous path, one he so richly deserved.

“It’s crazy that I’ve been on seven different teams,” he said. “I actually still have the cut dates and I look at that before every game. I look at the cut dates. When I got cut.”

The list of NFL transactions attached on Mostert’s page on the pro-football-reference.com website reads like a 25-chapter book, beginning in May 2015 when the undrafted running back signed with the Eagles, followed by the Dolphins, the Ravens, the Browns, the Jets and the Bears, who dismissed him on Nov. 24, 2016.

Six teams, six heartbreaks, over 18 months. Maybe it was time for Mostert to give up. Go back to Florida, where he was a two-star recruit as a prep wide receiver. Maybe stay home in Cleveland, where his wife has family.

“Not everybody can deal with that type of stress and pain and agony that I went through,” Mostert said. “But I kept the faith in not only myself but whoever gave me the opportunity. This organization has done a great job of that.”

Four days after he was bumped from Chicago, Kelly, who released Mostert when he was the head coach in Philly, signed him in San Francisco. Six weeks later, Kelly was fired and Mostert was, um, deeply concerned.

New 49ers general manager John Lynch and Shanahan met with Mostert and promised he’d get a fair chance. He jumped all over that bet.

“They basically told me they believe in me,” Mostert said.

As a special-teams player, yes. As a starting running back, no.

Lynch and Shanahan signed free-agent tailback Matt Breida in May. One year later, they lavishly spent (a reported $30 million over four years) to add free agent Jerick McKinnon. They then signed Tevin Coleman last summer to a two-year contract worth a reported $10 million.

When Mostert arrived for training camp six months ago, he was the owner of a three-year contract worth $8.7 million, a valuable special teams player – and the No. 4 running back on the depth chart.

Over the course of the season, as McKinnon, Coleman and Breida all dealt with varying degrees of injury-forced inactivity, Shanahan started taking longer looks at Mostert. He still had the 4.4 speed he flashed as a track star back at Purdue, and he made a habit of racing past defenders. He finished with 10 touchdowns and a 5.6 yards-per-carry average that was No. 1 among all NFL running backs.

“We do our job, and he turns five-yard runs into house calls,” left tackle Mike McGlinchey said.

Demoralizing Green Bay’s defense with 160 yards on 14 first-half carries, Mostert averaged 7.6 yards per carry in the game. Coleman totaled 21 yards on six carries before leaving with a shoulder injury. Breida carried once, for two yards.

The Packers kept getting Mostert, Mostert and more Mostert.

“I can’t believe I’m in this position right now and that I did the things that I did tonight,” he said.

Guess who is No. 1 now? The guy who sent Aaron Rodgers into the offseason with a performance for the ages.

“That’s an unbelievable thing,” McGlinchey said. “That’s like movie stuff. To be the MVP of the NFC Championship Game and get four touchdowns and put your team in the Super Bowl, that’s pretty cool.”

[RELATED: Bosa sets tone for 49ers' defense shutting down Rodgers]

It’s not as if Mostert is the star who materialized out of nowhere. Rather, he came from just about everywhere.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday)

Warriors' rookie Eric Paschall back to looking like a long-term keeper

Warriors' rookie Eric Paschall back to looking like a long-term keeper

SAN FRANCISCO -- No one in the Warriors' front office or on the coaching staff knows the extent of Eric Paschall’s NBA potential. Neither does he. In the fourth month of his career, he has provided ample evidence to engage debate.

After his first six weeks: Solid Rookie of the Year candidate.

After the next five weeks, during which endured assorted aches and pains in his joints: Uh, um, well, maybe he’s solid rotation player.

After the last two: He can start for any team and produce under pretty much any condition.

Paschall shed some light on his progress Saturday night after doing his part and more to lift the Warriors to a 109-95 win over the Orlando Magic. Making his second start since Dec. 11, he scored 20 points, grabbed nine rebounds and added two steals in 35 minutes.

He was a difference-maker, looking much more like the player we’d glimpsed in the first six weeks than during the five that followed.

There is, he acknowledged, a reason for that.

“I feel those injuries were kind of a blessing in disguise in terms of my body and getting the proper rest I needed,” he said of discomfort felt in both hips during various stages of December.

“Your rookie year is probably your longest year because right after college you’re going to pre-draft workouts, flying across the country for a workout, maybe have a back-to-back workout. Right after that, you go into training camp for summer league. Right after that, you go into training camp. So, you don’t really get a lot of time off. That was really good for me in terms of my body and having time to recover.”

This point, which can be lost in translation, is particularly applicable to Paschall because he played four years of college ball, 27 games as a freshman at Fordham and 110 at powerhouse Villanova. The Wildcats played deep into March.

Coming to the Warriors this season, when much of their roster was being rebuilt, Paschall dived into the opportunity to play. A lot. He averaged a team-high 33 minutes over his first 22 NBA games, 19 of which he scored in double figures. He didn’t hit the vaunted “rookie wall.” He was thrown up against it.

Paschall missed two games in mid-December due to soreness in his left hip. He missed two more games in late-December with what was described as a contusion on his right hip.

As he made several attempts to play through the discomfort, it was apparent he was not struggling. His production took a steep drop, as did his minutes. He scored 70 points in the first four games of December, 73 over the next 11, bleeding into January.

Paschall’s 20-point game Saturday was his first since he rang up 24 points on Dec. 2. His nine rebounds were the most since he pulled that same amount on that same night.

Citing Paschall’s solid play over the previous four games, it was an easy call for coach Steve Kerr to start the 6-6, 250-pound rookie at power forward Saturday for the ailing Draymond Green.

The reward was efficiency (8-of-14 shooting from the field, 2-of-5 from beyond the arc) and impact and indicated, again, that Paschall is better suited to power forward than small forward, where he also has spent some time.

“It’s just more floor spacing,” Kerr said. “He’s so quick off the dribble and he’s got that burst at the rim, so when he’s at the four, even with a great athlete like Aaron Gordon out there, he still has the space to go to the rim and create a play.

“At the three, it’s a little more difficult to do that because you have more big guys in the paint. It’s an easier position for Eric to play, and he was fantastic.”

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After initially suggesting his game is no different at small forward than it is at power forward, Paschall agreed with Kerr’s assessment.

“Yeah, I understand why he says that, in terms of just being able to attack,” he said. “Now that I think about it, I would say spacing at the four is (beneficial).”

There is little debate about that. And no debate at all that Paschall has the physical tools and mental makeup to prosper in the NBA.