Four years ago, Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel, then an assistant with the San Francisco 49ers, flew down to the University of North Texas on an off day for a predraft workout with running back Jeff Wilson Jr.
When asked what he remembered from that meeting Thursday, Wilson said he would “never forget” it. He was stiff, palms slick with sweat and stomach fluttering with nerves.
“First thing, Mike comes in,” Wilson said in his first comments with local reporters Thursday. “... He makes a joke, and I just bust out laughing. The ice was broke then. So after that, [it] just felt like, ‘I’ve been working with this guy all my life.’ It was just the vibe he had, how he was talking, going through the motions that he was taking me through. You just felt the love. We didn’t even know each other then, so that was real cool.”
McDaniel said Wednesday that he learned a lot about Wilson during that workout. While in San Francisco as the 49ers’ run game coordinator, McDaniel decided to target Wilson, who went undrafted in 2018. Since then, up close and from afar, McDaniel has watched the 26-year-old grow.
Now McDaniel, Wilson and Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert — who played in San Francisco for five seasons before coming to Miami this year — are reunited in South Florida. The Dolphins acquired Wilson from the 49ers ahead of the NFL’s trade deadline Tuesday in exchange for a 2023 fifth-round pick.
General manager Chris Grier said McDaniel, Wilson and Mostert shared a “kumbaya moment.”
“It was the team meeting [Wednesday] morning, and Mike was like, ‘Hey, we got ‘Jefe [Wilson].’ And I was like, ‘I know we did!’” Mostert said, laughing.
Mostert, who has three years of NFL experience on Wilson, said he remembered when his new teammate came into San Francisco as an undrafted rookie and was unsure whether he would make the team.
“Me and him sat in my car and talked a little bit, because I’m an undrafted guy as well, and now look at us,” Mostert said. “We’re both still playing in the league. I gave him some words of encouragement at the time and told him, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it, bro. You’re going to be good.’ And now, it’s paying off. The hard work that he’s done thus far and has continued to do, even this year. … It’s always good to know that you have a brother with you that you’ve played with for some time now.”
The feeling is mutual, as Wilson said he remembered Mostert’s mentorship fondly and was excited to rejoin him in Miami.
“Before I even played a down, before I even knew who he was, before I even really knew who I was,” Wilson said, “[Mostert] took me out to eat and just gave me a big brother feel. So that’s the type of person he is. “
Both Wilson and Mostert occupy the NFL’s top 20 rushers this season with 468 (15th) and 452 (20th) yards, respectively.
“He’s a guy that is magnetic,” McDaniel said of Wilson. “He’s very focused on football, has a nature of playing football that I think affects his teammates in a positive manner. He’s a physical guy that you can count on to bring that physicality and tone sets in that regard. … And then [he’s one of] the locker rooms’ favorite players, while also trying to do his best and whatever he can to help the team. So I couldn’t be happier with the person that we’re bringing to the Dolphins.”
Offensive coordinator Frank Smith said he liked Wilson’s physicality, speed and vision. When asked how he would go about determining Wilson’s playing time against the Chicago Bears Sunday, Smith pointed to the running back’s familiarity in the system and said he hopes Wilson’s transition to the field in aqua and orange will be smooth and speedy.
“I’m downhill,” Wilson said of his running style. “I don’t like to play too many games. I like to get to where I’m going and get there fast as I can.”