The NFL has taken notice of San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert, and opposing defensive minds know the fifth-year player can do a lot of damage if you let him. He's likely to do significant damage whether you devote substantial resources to stopping him or not.

Of the 49ers' talented group of running backs, Mostert has been taking the majority of the snaps on offense in recent weeks. That's because his production has made it difficult to justify taking him off the field. Mostert racked up 146 rushing yards with a touchdown on 19 carries against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13 and had 109 all-purpose yards with two scores against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

"I mean, we keep trying to balance it out and stuff," head coach Kyle Shanahan said of Mostert this week, "but what Raheem has done these last few weeks and has continued to do, we need to give him more opportunities. He's given us no choice. I'm happy for him, and it's been great. He's been extremely impressive."

On the ground, Mostert has averaged 7.4 rushing yards per carry over the last three games and is averaging six yards per attempt for the season. That season mark ranks him No. 1 among qualifying NFL running backs, ahead of names like Devin Singletary of the Buffalo Bills (5.6 yards per carry) and teammate Matt Breida (5.2).

Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn spoke with Bay Area reporters via a conference call on Wednesday and explained why he is wary of Mostert and the 49ers running backs as a whole.

"I have to say, all the backs, they've got great speed," Quinn said. "I mean, the gas that they have in their running backs room, it's legitimate. Raheem has always had an impact on special teams with his speed at the gunner.

"Now, out on the perimeter, when he gets the ball in his hands, he's a real factor. And sometimes, you need the opportunity to do that, and he's definitely taking advantage of those."

Mostert joined the 49ers on November 28, 2016, and spent most of his early time with the team as a special-teams contributor. His role on offense increased in 2018, and he showed he could make an impact before suffering a fractured forearm during Week 9 against the Oakland Raiders.

Mostert has received more opportunities this season and currently leads the team in rushing with 608 yards and four touchdowns on 102 carries. He has added 12 receptions for 159 yards with two receiving scores.

"I think it's probably the speed that sets him apart," Quinn continued, "because, although he's playing running back, the matchups to go against a player like that, you better have speed at linebacker or at safety, if you're going to guard him in man-to-man, because, if you don't, those are the kinds of mismatches that really [hurt you].

"Some teams have one back that has the speed of Matt or [Tevin Coleman] or Raheem, and they just happen to have a few of them that have real speed. I think that's a weapon that you've got to take into consideration when you're talking about matchups, and especially in the matchups in man-to-man."

The 49ers and Falcons kick off on Sunday at 1:25 p.m. PT from Levi's Stadium.