Frank Gore's San Francisco 49ers Journey by the Numbers

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Frank Gore's San Francisco 49ers Journey by the Numbers
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Frank Gore is approaching a time in his life which many NFL fans consider no man's land: He will soon be 30 years old.

With LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter in particular being drafted with the decline of Gore in mind, it does beg the question of just how much his play has faltered the last few seasons.

More important, though, is to remember that Gore is the San Francisco 49ers all-time leading rusher and, pound for pound, one of the most physical backs in the NFL.

Many say that Gore is underrated, and when you look at his career averages, it's clear he is not in the elite tier of running backs.

But he may be the best of the rest.

When you look at the first three years of his career, he is up there with the best in the NFL.

Steven Jackson of the St Louis Rams rushed for an impressive 3,247 yards during his first three seasons as an NFL running back.

I'm not sure if it's an NFC West thing, for running backs to be underrated, but Gore eclipsed that number during his first three years by rushing for 3,405 yards.

Gore may never return to his elite form of 2006, when he rushed for 1,695 yards and eight touchdowns, with a 5.4 yards-per-carry average, but he has always been productive, even if he has been a little slower since then.

Even when you compare Gore to relatively young stars like Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens, a prime Gore posted better stats.

I consider the first three or four years of a running back's NFL career to be his best years, and the fact that Gore has maintained the same 4.6 yards-per-carry average throughout his entire career that Ray Rice has after four fewer seasons of experience and no major injuries is a testament to how hard Gore plays.

Unfortunately, Gore seems to have lost some burst, and he tends to tire by the time the second half comes around.

Gore's stats steadily declined in every game last year every time a quarter went by, with his going strong in the first and then being less effective in the fourth quarter.

I would never goes as far to say that Gore is done, because I know enough about sports to realize that a player can be revitalized when some competition meets him.

I'd imagine, on the basis of last year, that Gore in 2012 will be on the field for pretty much every first down and then most of the second downs, but it's highly unlikely he will be a every-down back anymore.

I'd go as far to say that I'd even consider sitting Gore if the team wraps up a playoff berth early, as it did year, because he really did well in the postseason after some good rest. Gore will probably get around half the team's carries this season.

Heart and pride don't translate into continued success, but if they did, Gore would go on and become one of the best running backs of all time.

As The (Calif.) Press Democrat suggests, Gore hasn't been quite as effective the last few seasons.

Football Outsiders found that Gore ranked lower than any other running back with more than 275 carries last year; the others in the 275 plus club were Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, Ray Rice, Michael Turner and Maurice Jones-Drew (via espn.go.com).

Furthermore, Gore broke only 12 tackles last year.

That isn't very good when the other players with over 275 carries exceeded him by a mile; Michael turner had 42 broken tackles, Foster had 32, Lynch had 34 and Jones-Drew had 37.

The stats suggest that Gore isn't bouncing off the tackles the same way that he was able to do only a few seasons ago.

Basically, one of Gore's supposed strengths has actually been a weakness of his for the last few years.

I hope that Gore sees his carries often and early and not the other way around, because he averaged five yards per carry his first 10 carries each game, 3.9 his next 10 and then 2.4 after that.

The other worrisome thing is something that I'm sure a lot of fans have spotted: Gore can't catch anymore.

Well, maybe I'm exaggerating, but there were a number of times last season that Gore was thrown good passes and was in the clear but was unable to haul them in.

These exact situations are why I'm excited to see James and Hunter involved in passing downs.

Gore isn't getting paid an awful lot for a respected RB, so there would never be any danger of his being cut even if his performance did worsen.

Of course you can't expect a seven-year veteran of a workhorse back to have the same energy and acceleration.

Gore still has hope for a good year, largely because of San Francisco's personnel additions in the offseason.

The added wide receivers will force defenses to respect the pass, and the improving offensive line will pave the way for Frank Gore's runs.

If Gore does manage another good year and maybe even a Super Bowl, the next question to ask about Gore might be whether or not he is headed to Canton.

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