Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series of articles from some of the most established, respected members of the DLF forum. These articles may not always reflect the opinions the DLF staff, but they will always be high quality & thought provoking, and are intended to provide a platform for sharing the insights and opinions from some of the best ffb minds around. Enjoy! – DLF Staff
There seems to be mixed feelings when it comes to Frank Gore. Where this workhorse lands on the RB ranks can vary drastically from one list to another. Now heading into his seventh season at age 28, Gore will be playing in a west-coast offense for new head coach Jim Harbaugh. There is no denying he’s been a beast in both reality and fantasy. The question is, how long can he continue?
That question is more complicated then it seems. We have several different factors to consider as we try to form our answers. His age seems to be the most common concern. He will turn 28 this off-season, nearing the end of the typical life span of a running back in the NFL. However, before his injury, Gore was on pace to have his best season since 2006, when he totaled 2,180 yards from scrimmage. All while playing with sub-par quarterbacks and an offensive line that featured two rookies. He has established himself as a top 5 RB when healthy. Note that former top 5 RB’s such as Shaun Alexander and LaDainian Tomlinson saw a significant decrease in production during their 9th season. He did see fewer touches over the first six seasons of his career then both of those players: LT averaged 408, Alexander averaged 350, while Gore saw just 274 touches each season.
Injury played its part in the lower number of touches, which brings us to our second concern. He has only completed one full season in his career. He’s missed 12 games, or three quarts of a season, in six years. As an owner, that’s three games each season in which you’ll be sitting Gore on your bench (including the bye). He missed the most important stretch in the fantasy schedule rehabbing his fractured hip. If you are willing and able to deal with this risk, the payoff could be bountiful. His most recent injury has owners hesitant to declare Gore as a top 5 back next season. However, he is ahead of schedule and isn’t expected to see any set backs from this injury.
The last major factor leaves us wondering. How will the new coaching staff affect Frank? How will he adjust to the west coast offense? Most are in agreement that these two aspects favor Gore. Historically the west coast offense benefits a running back with his style of play. But what of the quarterback situation? How the Niners address this need will directly impact Gore’s production. Some think that Troy Smith has the ability to become a quality starter in that offense, but most agree the quarterback of the future for San Francisco is not on the roster. This situation will need to be monitored closely for those who are Gore owners. Do they look to the draft or bring in a veteran like Donovan McNabb to try and cash in on their franchise running back’s last few seasons. The other pieces are in place as the line has the off-season to gel together and with strong weapons at the key positions.
So what does all this mean for a fantasy owner? How do we answer the question of how many years Gore has left as a quality starter? Assuming Harbaugh properly addresses the QB position, Gore should be considered a top 5 RB for at least two more seasons. His age and his injury history make me doubt he can break the trend and continue RB1 production past 2012. With that said, if you can acquire him at a discount, I would certainly do so. His stock is at an all time low given his age and injury, but it will rise quickly through the first part of the 2011 season. Mid-season of 2012 will be the “sell by date” for Gore owners as he falls to RB2 production in 2013. Championship contenders will benefit from Gore’s production over the next two seasons as he’ll continue to run with the best of them. If you are in rebuilding mode, you should wait until a few weeks in to the season and look to move him. You need to let Gore put the injury behind him and prove he is still a major contributor. There will certainly be teams in need of a solid running back to make a push for the playoffs.