By Leo Silbert
For years Frank Gore has been one of the most underrated running backs in the NFL. He has never been the best running back in the league during his career, but part of that has to do with how his career has overlapped with LaDainian Thomlinson and Adrian Peterson. His breakout season of 2006 was the year that Thomlinson set the record for most touchdowns in a season and then the next year Peterson was a rookie who ended up rushing for an NFL record amount of yards in a game with 296 yards. Gore though, has been steadily acquiring 1000+ yard seasons and right now he sits eighth all time in rushing yards with a good shot at passing Thomlinson this upcoming season for 5th all time.
Frank Gore has been an underrated player for a long time. He was the running back at the University of Miami, following in the footsteps of guy such as Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee and Clinton Portis who all had played for the Hurricanes within a 3 year span, with McGahee and Portis being on the team at the same time as Gore. Gore initially beat out McGahee as the starting running back for the 2002 season, until a torn acl kept him out for the season. He played in 2003 and 2004, playing well each year, but he ended up not being considered as one of the top 5 running backs in his draft year, being taken behind Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams, J.J. Arrington and Eric Shelton. A few reasons hindering Gore’s draft stock was his slow 40 yard dash time and the fact that he’d be the 4th Hurricanes running back taken in the draft in a 4 year span. His injury history also hurt his stock as the NFL still had Terrell Davis’ knee injury fresh in their minds.
The 49ers decided to make Gore the first pick of the 3rd round in the 2005 NFL draft. The team had picked up Alex Smith in the first round so the 49ers looked to have their offensive core players set for the next decade to go with rookie center David Bass. Gore was the backup running back behind Kevan Barlow. Gore was 2nd on the team in carries with 127, but led the team in yards with 608 yards and he helped in the passing game with 15 catches. This lead to Gore becoming the featured running back in 2006 and he took off with one of the best rushing seasons in the league, but he was overshadowed by LaDainian Thomlinson and Larry Johnson rushing for more yards and 20 and 9 more touchdowns respectively. That was also Tiki Barber’s final season where he had his 2nd straight season of more than 1600 yards after the age of 30 and rookie Steven Jackson in Gore’s division had less than 200 fewer yards than Gore, while also catching the ball 90 times. Gore definitely had a great season, but he didn’t have as good of a story going for him than any of the other top 5 running backs that year. The next year he put up another 1000+ yard season but attracted little attention on another bad 49ers team where he was once again the main contributor of the offense. That story repeats itself for 2008 and 2009 where Gore continued being one of the best running backs in the league on a team that didn’t have the talent to keep up with him. He was on pace for another season like that in 2010, but he ended up missing 5 games and only totaling 853 yards (which for him is still the 2nd worst yardage total of his career). Then in 2011, the 49ers finally had a good enough head coach to bring the entire team into the spotlight and Gore finally got some of the recognition he deserved on one of the top 3 teams in the league that year. In his first postseason, the team made it to the NFC Championship game at home against the eventual champion New York Giants. Then in 2012, Gore was the calming presence in the backfield that helped the team through a quarterback change that helped the team reach the Superbowl, eventually falling to the Ravens after the team attempted multiple goal line fade throws instead of handing the ball off to their bell cow. In 2013 at the age of 30 he had yet another 1000 yard season on a run first team that made it to their third straight NFC Championship game, which was ended when their quarterback threw a game sealing interception into double coverage. In 2014, the 49ers drafted Gore’s eventual replacement running back in Carlos Hyde and Gore responded with yet another 1000 yard season on a team where the rest of the offense fell apart around the desire to make Colin Kaepernick into a pocket passer. After the 2014 season, the 49ers let go of Jim Harbaugh and they didn’t resign Gore which left the soon to be 32 year old as a free agent with a decision to make. Did he want to continue playing for another team, or did he want to hang it up. He decided to keep playing and joined a team that desperately needed a running game.
Gore showed up in Indianapolis as a 32 year old running back who was looked at as the bell cow running back for a team that just lost the AFC Championship game. Then, the Colts lost Andrew Luck to injury so Gore, behind a terrible Colts offensive line, was 33 yards away from his 9th 1000 yard rushing season. He returned for the 2016 season where the Colts were still lacking in talent up front, but they had Andrew Luck back in the fold so their offense was quite successful. Gore put up his 9th 1000 yard rushing season at the age of 33 and his pass catching and blocking skills helped the Colts’ offense rebound, but the defense failed the team, leading to another 8-8 record and he is set to return for his 13th season in the league on a team that now has a new general manager and will be looking to get back into their 2014 form.
Now, that I have summarized Gore’s career, where does that fit into the top running backs of all time picture? Well, he has never been considered he best running back in the league during his career, so he isn’t in conversation for the top 5. Him being in the top 10 would also be a stretch, but I think he could definitely fit into the top 15. He isn’t a Barry Sanders or a Terrell Davis where he was considered the best over a period of years, but he had a stretch where he was consistently a top 5 running back in one of the more competitive periods of running back play in the history of the league. His 13,065 yards all but guarantees him a spot in Canton already, but if he puts up a year where he rivals the amount of yards he had in 2010 when he missed 5 games, then he will be 250 yards clear of Thomlinson for 5th all time. He is 6 rushing touchdowns away from 80, which would place him in the top 20 all time in that category. He wasn’t an elite pass catcher at the position, but he has over 400 receptions for over 3000 yards, but it is good enough to put him in the top 20 in all purpose yards of all time. Frank Gore is one of the greatest running backs of all time, and it is time we start appreciating him as such.