Marcel Shipp was an NFL running back for six seasons and later coached the position for the New York Jets, so he was understandably impressed by Raheem Mostert's historic performance for the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 19. More than the average fan, he appreciated the nuances in Mostert's game, especially his understanding of each play and his fluid running style.
"The kid just moves so well," Shipp said in a phone interview with ESPN.
Now for the strange part of the story.
Shipp didn't realize it during the game, but he actually coached Mostert with the Jets. Mostert was on the Jets' practice squad for six days in 2016 -- Sept. 6 to Sept. 12 -- but Shipp had no recollection of the running back. The aha moment came last Friday during that phone interview.
"Wow, I don't remember him at all," Shipp said with a laugh. "I usually remember those guys. This is bad. I do not remember him being in the room."
Hey, it happens. Teams routinely churn their roster, especially early in the season, creating a revolving-door effect. For instance: In September 2016, the Jets made 64 transactions. Who could have imagined that one of them would become a postseason hero?
Mostert spent two years on the NFL treadmill, bouncing from team to team before landing with the 49ers in 2016. Now he's one of the biggest stories in Super Bowl LIV. Cut by six teams before signing with the 49ers, he became the first player in NFL history to rush for at least 200 yards and four touchdowns in a playoff game. He ran for 220 yards against the Green Bay Packers after replacing the injured Tevin Coleman.
Three years ago, Mostert was just a name on the Jets' transaction wire, one of several running backs who cycled through the organization. Matt Forte and Bilal Powell were entrenched as the top two backs, but the Jets wanted a third back for depth purposes. Players such as Khiry Robinson, Troymaine Pope, Brandon Wilds and C.J. Spiller spent time on the 53-man roster.
Mostert never made it to the 53. He was barely in New Jersey long enough to get unpacked. His time with the Jets ended "in the blink of an eye," according to his agent, Brett Tessler.
"Of all the transactions throughout his career, that was probably the most frustrating one," Tessler said. "At that point, he had made real progress as a player. Even though the Browns let him go [prior to the Jets], he had a year on NFL rosters under his belt. You would think his résumé would've warranted more than a week on a practice squad."
Mostert went from the Philadelphia Eagles to the Miami Dolphins to the Baltimore Ravens to the Browns to the Jets to the Chicago Bears to the 49ers. He played a preseason or regular-season game for every team except the Jets.
The personnel department was impressed with his speed, toughness and smarts, but there was concern about a fumbling problem. Some in the building felt he had potential, but the front office and coaching staff in that regime weren’t always aligned on personnel evaluations. When an organization has a disconnect, it can result in players slipping through the cracks.
Maybe that happened with Mostert, who told Yahoo! after the NFC title game that his low point was getting released by the Jets.
"That year with the Jets, I didn't know what was going on with that third running back," said Shipp, who was fired after the 2016 season. "The people upstairs were shuffling a lot of players, so I don't remember [Mostert]."
But that doesn't mean he doesn't admire Mostert. Shipp, who retired from coaching and operates a pool-servicing company in Phoenix, lauded Mostert for his perseverance.
"It says a lot about the kid," Shipp said. "It says a lot about the experts, too. The experts were wrong and, obviously, I was one of them. Six teams missed on him. He finally found the team and the system that suits him. Hats off to him."