It feels like every season Frank Gore is written off. This year the talk is all the more intense since he has hit the magical 30th birthday mark which can often signal a precipitous drop in production for running backs. Yet, Gore seems poised to buck that trend, at least in opportunity. Gore is coming off back to back 1,000 yard seasons. In fact, he has surpassed 1,000 yards six out of his eight years in the league. Much of that time he also caught a fair amount of balls, something which has slowed considerably over the last two years.
Last season, 14 of Gore's 38 targets came after Week 11, when Colin Kaepernick took over full time. So while it was his lowest total number of targets and second lowest total of catches, it did appear as if the trend was moving upwards. This looks even more likely given the injury to Michael Crabtree. Although the 49ers maintain Crabtree can play at some point this season, he has a lot of work to do and is unlikely to be back -- best case scenario -- before the halfway point. What this means is that Kaepernick will be looking for other options and while most of the time he'll send the ball towards tight end Vernon Davis or one of the other wide receivers, he will look for Gore more than he might have otherwise -- perhaps even in the red zone.
On top of that,Gore averaged almost three more carries a game after Kaepernick took over (15.6 to 18.1 average). While that may seem like a small thing, it represents more opportunity.
On the downside, Gore's average rushing yards per game went down 5.5 yards (from 83.4 yards a game to 78.0) so just because he gets more carries doesn't mean he will have more yards.
Also a problem is the long list of other running backs who will be vying for time in the backfield. Kendall Hunter (recovering from an Achilles injury) and Anthony Dixon could bite a little into Gore's carries but the real threat comes from former Oregon back LaMichael James. The second year running back is a strong runner who plays bigger than his size would indicate and is a great fit in a spread or option offense.
Still, Gore will get first crack and, if healthy, shouldn't have any worries about keeping his job.
And neither should his owners.
- Lead back in a run heavy offense
- Fantastic defense means more time to carry the ball and grind the clock
- Injury to Michael Crabtree will lead to bounce back receiving year
- Young, hungry back behind him who fits the offense very well
- Has hit 30 years of age
- It could be time for the team to start phasing him out
It may soon be time for the 49ers to move away from Frank Gore and towards a younger back like Marcus Lattimore, but this year isn't that time. This is a team poised for a run at a Super Bowl and Gore has been integral in their success so far. I don't see that changing suddenly, unless he collapses, which I also don't see happening this year.
That said, Gore is getting on in years and the 49ers are likely to want to see the other backs a little bit if possible. That will only pull Gore's overall numbers down to earth. Gore has been a #1 fantasy RB for most of his career, but that isn't the case anymore. However, as an RB2, Gore is a solid and reliable option.
Not only will he get you good yards and frequent touchdowns on the ground, he will see his receptions move back up a bit as well.
Many fantasy owners will look towards players who are newer and shinier, with greater upside or more flash. You'll be able to nab Gore in the late third or fourth round and get very good production from him.
Frank Gore doesn't see turning 30 as a bad thing, even if it's the age when most NFL running backs start to decline.
If anything, the San Francisco 49ers' career rushing leader has embraced the milestone and sees it as another means of motivation.
"I love it," Gore said Thursday outside of the 49ers' locker room.
"I feel like every year it's something with me. I have to overcome everything, every year. Now that I'm 30 I just have to keep working and training hard."
Not that Gore has ever needed extra incentive.
Whether it was being bypassed in the 2005 draft when he was the sixth running back selected or the string of injuries he's endured and overcome since then, Gore has always felt the need to prove people wrong.
The 49ers clearly know Gore's value and have limited his participation in the offseason workouts, including this week's three-day minicamp.
San Francisco hopes the time off will help keep Gore fresher for the regular season. He's topped 1,000 yards in six of the past seven years, but he's also had a tendency to wear down late in the season.
Joe Levitt of Bleacher Report discusses how the other mouths to feed in the offense coud impact Gore's 2013.
Frank Gore required 258 carries for his 1,214 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012. He attained those numbers with Colin Kaepernick starting just seven games, Kendall Hunter missing the final five games and LaMichael James playing in only four.
Can he really expect to replicate those tremendous stats with Kap, Hunter and James potentially hitting the gridiron for all 16 games?
Some pundits might argue that Michael Crabtree’s injury leaves a substantial void in the offense. That would then place more emphasis on the 49ers ground attack—with Gore at the front and center.
While we agree somewhat with that hypothesis, we would counter with San Francisco’s much deeper depth chart at wide receiver.
Anquan Boldin is an accomplished possession receiver and has already established rapport with Kaepernick. A.J. Jenkins has also shined in camp, according to Maiocco, and adds to a talented corps of wideouts that includes Kyle Williams, Mario Manningham and Quinton Patton.
Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald, meanwhile, will join forces as a formidable receiving duo in two-tight end sets. The rookie has already made his presence felt in the offseason, according to Maiocco.
Meanwhile,is signed through the 2014 season, but he is due to have a big salary-cap number in his final season. "Gore could become a cap casualty in 2014," Corry writes. "Running backs in their 30s usually don't command $6.45 million salaries, especially on teams with good depth at the position."
During Gore's most recent contract negotiation in 2011, general manager Trent Baalke said the goal was to make the running back a "49er for life." Will that be the case?
The 49ers seemed to have Justin Smith and Gore in mind with two of their more prominentin April. They used an early second-round pick on defensive lineman Tank Carradine and a fourth-round pick on running back Marcus Lattimore.
That both players were drafted injured - especially Lattimore, who may not play this season - clouds things a bit as far as when these young players could take over. But it's clear the 49ers are preparing for the eventual departure of two veteran players who have been the backbone of the team in recent years.
More from Andrew Garda:
Player Spotlight: Robert Griffin III - August 4
Player Spotlight: Chris Ivory - June 28
Handle With Care: Determining the Value of Marcus Lattimore - June 11