Dolphins' Mostert runs like he has a chip -- or several -- on his shoulder

MIAMI – Miami Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert is playing on his eighth team in nine seasons, and he was asked whether he could recite all the teams that released him.

“Yeah, I can do that,” he said. “Philly, Dolphins, Baltimore, Cleveland ... Jets, Chicago, Niners, and now I’m here.”

Mostert’s experience has made him protective of his roster spot. So despite rumors throughout this offseason of the Dolphins’ interest in multiple Pro Bowl running backs, Mostert remained locked in on reality rather than hypotheticals.

And the reality is Mostert is leading the league with seven touchdowns, including a league-high six rushing TDs. Mostert had a monster game Sunday against the Denver Broncos, rushing for 143 yards and four touchdowns.

He’s a major reason why Miami has the most potent offense in the NFL, and he’ll try to keep it going Sunday in a key AFC East showdown with the Buffalo Bills (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Before being released by so many teams, Mostert went undrafted in 2015. That shaped his perspective when rumors swirled about the Dolphins going after Dalvin Cook and Jonathan Taylor.

“When you have a lot of guys, a lot of people, a lot of naysayers out there, they want to continue to talk and continue to -- ‘Oh, I wish this player was here, I wish that player [was here],’” Mostert said Sunday. “My whole thing is I’ve always been an underdog, and that’s OK, but I’m going to show everybody, I’m going to prove everybody wrong because that’s what fuels me the most.”

Mostert signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2015 but was released and claimed by the Dolphins, who released him a month later. Over the next 13 months, he was signed and released by the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, New York Jets and Chicago Bears before landing with the San Francisco 49ers in November 2016.

He spent six seasons with the 49ers, rushing for 1,610 yards and 11 touchdowns before signing with the Dolphins once again in 2022.

As Miami’s primary running back last season, Mostert set a career high with 891 rushing yards, despite missing 16 games in 2021 with cartilage damage in his left knee. The 2023 offseason was the healthiest he’d experienced in years, and he was rewarded with a two-year contract extension worth $5.6 million. Still, he had to answer questions about possibly adding another running back.

“Just to add somebody like Dalvin would be good in the backfield,” Mostert said in July. “But at the end of the day, it’s more so about what’s on the team right now, the guys that we got to work with, and just be better as a group. It will always be a bonus to add a running back. We all learn and piggyback off each other.”

The Dolphins ultimately decided against adding Cook or Taylor, and appear to have been vindicated by fostering the NFL’s leading rushing offense at 188 yards per game.

Miami remained committed to Mostert as its lead back. It’s almost difficult to believe that seven years ago, he was questioning his future.

After playing three games with the Browns in 2015, Mostert signed a one-year tender the following March. However, he was released in September prior to the start of the season.

He vividly remembers the day, the same day as his wife, Devon’s, bridal shower. He needed to tell someone, so he called her father.

“I’ll never forget, I was sitting at the couch in our apartment and gave him that call,” he said. “I said ‘hey man look, I don’t know how to tell you this, I don’t even want to tell the ladies, but I just got cut by the Browns.’ The first thing he said was don’t worry about it, we’re going to talk about this when the girls get done with the bridal shower because that would have just ruined their day.”

Mostert called that day a pivotal moment in his career. Not because of his conversation with his father-in-law, but rather the one he had with Devon later on. He asked her what he should do and she responded with a question of her own: “How much do you truly love football?”

Mostert replied that he’d played the sport since he was 7 years old. Devon’s response was simple.

“Well, I don’t see what’s stopping you now,” she said.

The Smyrna Beach, Florida, native is on pace for a career-best 1,360 yards and 34 touchdowns after three games.

Even after rookie De'Von Achane’s breakout performance against the Broncos (233 total yards, four touchdowns), another career season seems within Mostert’s reach. And while 34 touchdowns seems outlandish -- the current NFL record is LaDanian Tomlinson’s 28 set in 2016 -- his coach thinks counting him out is equally as absurd.

“To look at him through the same lens as every other back I think would be a mistake,” coach Mike McDaniel said. “Just watching the nuances of his game, he’s developed confidence, conviction, his vision is better, he’s more decisive. … He is a hard tackle. Pound for pound he might be one of, if not the strongest, person on the team.

“He’s just unique in that way. I try to very much acknowledge when people live outside the curve. I’d rather be the person that was like, ‘yeah, see? I knew it.’ Because you just watch what he does on a daily basis and know how hungry he is and how much he wants to do what he does best, which is run the football.”