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Spotlight: Frank Gore

posted by Heath Cummings on Aug 2nd


Heath Cummings's thoughts

Running backs all have an expiration date, and Frank Gore is marching ever closer to his. The real question is whether he hits that mark this year at 29 years old with nearly 2000 touches under his belt or staves off Father Time for one more productive fantasy season. In 2011, Gore quietly put up his second highest yardage total and a respectable eight touchdowns. While those numbers don't show evidence of slowing down, the 49ers offseason just may.

It's never a good sign for an aging running back when their team adds running backs in both the draft and free agency. Brandon Jacobs has been successful as a short yardage back the past few seasons and could definitely cut into Gore's red zone opportunities. LeMichael James is incredibly quick, and while he may be limited to the return game in his rookie year, he could also slide into a third down role that could cut further cut into Gore's receptions that fell off significantly last season. All this and we haven't even mentioned the holdover in the 49ers backfield, Kendall Hunter. Hunter averaged a very respectable 4.2 yards per carry last season, and was effective catching the ball out of the backfield. It would be easy to see the 49ers giving him 2-3 series per game to help take the load off of Gore. In other words, even if Gore hasn't lost a step heading into his ninth NFL season, his touches are most likely going to be significantly reduced.

Not only is Gore a running back with a lot of mileage, he's had plenty of nicks along the way. Last season was just the second in his eight year NFL career that he played all 16 games, and even then he wasn't entirely healthy. This is obviously one of the reasons the 49ers want to reduce the toll on his body, to try to keep him fresh and healthy for the end of the season.

The other major question mark for Gore is the 49ers offense as a whole. Their passing game was efficient in 2012 but not threatening. The additions of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham were meant to add deep threats but it's questionable whether quarterback Alex Smith will be able to take advantage of them, if they're able to get open. The 49ers philosophy of protecting the ball and trusting their defense worked well for Gore last season, but if he's going to get fewer touches he's going to need the offense to produce more scoring opportunities. While his 8 touchdowns were respectable, they were less than six running backs in 2011 with fewer yards, and no one had more yardage and less touchdowns than Gore.

With all the things going against him in 2012, Frank Gore may still be a good value on draft day. He's currently going off the board as the 19th running back in the early 4th round. That is not where you would expect to find a three-time Pro Bowl running back that put up the stats he did in 2011. A lot of people wrote Gore off before 2011 because of his lackluster performance and continued injury problems and we all know what he did after that. In Gore's favor is a schedule that is easier, and the idea that a fresher Gore may be a better Gore. It is true that all five of his 100+ yard rushing games came in the first half of last season. Perhaps with more rest he won't wear down in 2012 and if that's the case you'll feel awfully silly if you pass on him in the third round.

Positives

  • 49ers will run the ball early and often, and even if his workload is reduced, he's going to see a majority of the touches
  • Gore's schedule, while not a cakewalk is markedly easier than it was in 2011
  • He's been a top fantasy running back for the last six years and he's currently being drafted as the 19th RB off the board

Negatives

  • He's approaching the age of demise for running backs with a lot of touches and a fairly significant injury history
  • The team brought in two running backs that could hurt both his red zone touches and limit his receptions
  • The 49ers will most likely struggle to move the ball again, limiting scoring opportunities

Final thoughts

I'm lower than most of the experts but higher than the ADP of Frank Gore in 2012. I don't believe there is a very good chance he matches what he did in 2011, but I think the odds of a complete collapse are low as well.

The best thing that could happen to Gore this preseason would be Brandon Jacobs disappearing. With fewer carries, Gore will have a difficult time putting up huge yardage totals so he's going to need the red zone touches that Jacobs may be stealing. I would feel very comfortable drafting Gore at his current ADP and expecting him to be one of the best RB2s in my fantasy league.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

butcher boy said:

Personally, I think Gore has the skills to keep his YPC up, but the age and competition to see his carries reduce a bit. The main reason I don't have his stats completely hitting the wall is because the Niners should have a respectable passing game this year, keeping the 8th man out of the box. I think he pulls off his last 1,000 yard year.

bicycle seat sniffer said:

The wheels are about to come off. He will play decent until Halloween, then the mileage and nagging injuries will catch up with him, again. If you happen to draft him, flip him in October

mdlane said:

I can't predict catches because Harbaugh rewrote the rules with respect to the Niners and pass catching RBs last year, and there's not much history to go on and figure out what he'll do this year. But the wheels have not come off Gore, yet, and he was not outperformed by Hunter last year. Which means he should be a lock for another 1000 yard season.


Frank Gore projections

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Heath Cummings24510416241801
Message board consensus2229646181321