Frank Gore: One of the NFL’s most underrated players of all time – by Lawrence Vos

Week 11 of the 2019 season could see one particular player leapfrog another in the all-time regular-season rushing charts.

So what you might say, but if the person on his knees awaiting the push on the shoulders and some legs sweeping around their ears is the legendary Barry Sanders then we have to take a proverbial time-out to recognize someone truly special, don’t we.

The Stats

If we go by this running back’s 2018 average weekly ground gain then it will be Week 11 2019 this milestone occurs, but if we go by his 70.2 average career yards per game it could be as early as Week 8.

He has an impressive 196 starts in 210 games and is now joining his fourth team and his second different AFC East team in three seasons. Let’s explore the world of one of the most durable, underrated and unassuming backs in NFL history, Frank Gore – a back who was billed as a bit fragile when drafted from The U (Miami Hurricanes) in 2005 by the San Francisco 49ers.

gore1
Photo Credit: Li, AP

Gore has missed 9 games in the last decade, and only 5 more in 15 seasons of un-flashy, straight-ahead, hard-hat and lunch pail type toting of the rock, in one of the most physically punishing positions in all of football.

14,748 rushing yards puts Gore at number four in all-time regular season rushing. Just 522 yards more in 2019, as the support act to LeSean McCoy in Buffalo, and Frank moves beyond Barry Sanders.

Let’s just all take 30 seconds to contemplate this possible achievement, Frank Gore can pass Barry Sanders in the annals of NFL history. Forever.

Gore doesn’t have a particularly bulging trophy cabinet, having made one-second team All-Pro, five Pro Bowls, three Conference Championships and one Super Bowl (XLVII where he quietly gained 110 yards rushing, being handed the ball by Colin Kaepernick in the 31-34 loss to the Baltimore Ravens).

gore2
Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What Gore May lack in career silverware he makes up with gaudy statistic after gaudy statistic:

  • 18,544 yards from scrimmage (5th all-time and current top active)
  • 96 total touchdowns (25th all-time and 4th active)
  • 3837 touches (4th all-time and top active)
  • 18,551 all-purpose yards (9th all-time – only actively trailing Darren Sproles)
  • 210 games played (22nd in active players but top running back by a distance, with only Darren Sproles as the only other running back in the top 50. Note that Sproles rushing yards in his career is 3,486, over 13,000 behind Gore)
  • 8 yards a touch (19th amongst active players)
  • 46 100+ yard rushing games (regular and post season)
  • First 100-yard game on 1 January 2006 (v Texans) most recent 14 October 2018 v Bears (both games were three-point wins)
  • Two 200+ yard rushing games – strangely both against the Seahawks

 

Where it began

Gore ran a 4.58 40-yard dash in the 2005 Scouting Combine, finishing behind the likes of Brandon Jacobs (4.56), Marion Barber (4.49) and ultra-high picks that year Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams (both 4.43).

Part of the reason he fell to round 3 (pick 65) was his speed, but the main reason was his college career that included two ACL tears, one forcing him to miss all of 2002, his second eligible year.

In 2001 Gore won a national championship in Miami, gaining three yards on two carries in mop-up duty behind Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee in the Orange Bowl.

By 2002 Gore had risen to the top of the depth chart over Willis McGahee only to get his first serious ACL injury.

2003 he played well but again tore an ACL after just 5 games.

Undeterred, Gore came back in 2004 playing the full season, culminating in a Peach Bowl win against Florida, rushing for 80 yards in the bowl game.

So what did draft scouts say of Gore back 14 years ago? Ourlads described Gore as a ‘Late second-day pick because of knee concerns and lack of speed’.

The 49ers had the first pick overall in 2005 and selected quarterback Alex Smith. Remarkably another survivor into 2018 before a gruesome leg break Smith, like Gore, was playing for his third career team in 2018. Smith has accrued some big stats, but similar to Gore he has not won anything significant.

Gore’s greatest quality is not his speed, not his elusiveness, not even a special move or rushing style – it’s his no-nonsense approach. Dive plays, off-tackle, draw plays, counters, have been his bread and butter. He has terrific instinct to find those 3-4 yards on most plays, delivering carries that are not highlight-reel worthy, but chain moving and clock deteriorating.

 

Playoff Past the Present and a Future in Canton

Frank’s playoff appearances have been limited, only eight in fourteen seasons, all between 2011 and 2013 with the 49ers, including a solo Super Bowl appearance. Not that much to show for one of the most durable running backs to have ever suited up.

A likely final professional year in the chilly atmosphere of Buffalo will undoubtedly yield no further playoff activity, but if Gore gets to pound the rock around 120-150 times in 2019 he will only increase his chances of being a first ballot hall of famer.

Yes, Sanders managed his career total in just 10 seasons (and 153 games), but he retired because he fell out of love with the game, walking away with 15,269 rushing yards. 

Out of interest, at his seasonal yardage average rate, if you added four more seasons to Sanders career, to match the seasons Gore has played so far, he would have retired with around 21,300 rushing yards – a total that would appear impossible to ever top.

As it stands Gore’s regular season career average carry is 4.4 yards, better than the all-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith (4.2) and tied with Sweetness Walter Payton. That’s some company to be in.

Dolphins sign veteran running back Frank Gore
Photo Credit: Sam Riche/TNS

Gore has carved out his own bust in Canton by bending down, finding holes, being reliable, and taking what a defense will offer.

His 5ft 9inch frame was judged as fragile coming out of college, but he has done the two most important things any NFL athlete needs to do on a consistent basis to survive, he has kept in shape and kept out of trouble.

Unbelievably Gore only holds one NFL record, the most consecutive seasons with 1,200 plus scrimmage yards (12 seasons worth), but when it comes down to it, any running back lasting 15 NFL seasons is worthy of celebration.

Gore Watch 2019 will be a fun follow as each carry draws him closer to Barry Sanders total.

The 49ers all-time leading rusher, Gore has said that when he does hang up his cleats he wants to do it as a San Fran player, as they were the team that drafted him and showed that initial faith in a guy who had two major injuries in college.

Bills fans will likely not fully appreciate Gore as he grinds out three or four-yard gains when LeSean McCoy takes a breather – but to anyone who appreciates longevity, class and an absolute determination to succeed, will be following Gore’s box-score stats as the 2019 season unfolds.

by Lawrence Vos – @NFLFanInEngland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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