Is Frank Gore the Greatest 49ers Running Back of All Time?
Gore broke franchise records for most career touchdowns and rushing yards during the 2012 season—both of which were previously owned by Joe Perry.
It's important to note that the 49ers don't count Perry's first two seasons toward franchise marks because the team was a member of the AFL until 1950. Counting those two seasons, Gore would still be behind Perry by 17 rushing touchdowns—a fact that bothered Perry until his dying breath, according to his wife, via the Sacramento Bee's Matt Barrows.
Roger Craig is surely a 49ers legend, and the way he revolutionized how running backs are utilized in the passing game cannot be overlooked. He and Perry deserve an honored place in team history, but has Gore overtaken them both?
Running the Ball
In just eight seasons, Gore has already rushed for more yards than Perry did in 14 seasons, even if we count the two seasons the 49ers don't officially recognize.
Here's how all three running backs stack up:
- Frank Gore: 8,836 yards and 51 touchdowns
- Joe Perry: 7,246 yards and 50 touchdowns
- Roger Craig: 7,064 yards and 50 touchdowns
Breaking their stats down on a per-season basis, here's what we find:
Perry was technically a fullback, so he didn't see as many carries as Gore and Craig.
Gore has been utilized as a pure runner more in his eight years than all three, and he's done so in an era when running the ball hasn't been as popular—oftentimes with eight or nine men crowding the line of scrimmage, because the 49ers have struggled to pass the ball during his tenure.
Yet Gore's prowess has allowed him to overcome long odds, and he's easily the best pure running back of these three.
Catching the Ball
Craig revolutionized the NFL, and his 1985 season, when he rushed for 1,050 yards and caught passes for 1,016 yards, was the first time any running back had accomplished the feat. Since then, only Marshall Faulk has matched it—once, back in 1999.
Gore is no slouch when it comes to catching balls out of the backfield, and neither was Perry. But neither one of them compares to Craig, as we'll see. Here is how they stack up:
- Roger Craig: 508 catches for 4,442 yards and 16 touchdowns.
- Frank Gore: 315 catches for 2,631 yards and 10 touchdowns.
- Joe Perry: 185 catches for 1,820 yards and seven touchdowns.
Breaking down their stats on a per-season basis, here's what we find:
There is no doubt that Craig takes the cake as the best receiving running back in 49ers history. He also benefited from Bill Walsh's West Coast offense that made him one of its centerpieces.
Gore may not have put up the same kind of numbers, but given the same opportunity, he'd be close.
Perry hardly made any impact in his three playoff games—two of which came in 1949, a year the 49ers don't officially score. In those three games, he rushed for 85 yards on 23 carries and didn't score a touchdown.
Craig was fortunate enough to participate in 16 career playoff games with the 49ers as a member of the dominant teams of the 1980s and '90s.
During Craig's time with the 49ers, he rushed for 817 yards and seven touchdowns in 202 attempts (4.0 yards per carry). He also caught 63 passes for 606 yards and two touchdowns for a total of nine touchdowns in 16 games.
Gore has only participated in five playoff games—all of which occurred in the past two seasons under Jim Harbaugh.
In these contests, Gore has rushed for 482 yards and four touchdowns on 92 carries (5.24 yards per carry). He also caught 15 passes for 131 yards and zero touchdowns for a total of four touchdowns in five games.
Perry is a legend, and his ability to get into the end zone as a fullback makes him one of the best running backs in team history.
Craig should be a Hall of Famer for his prowess as a receiver, and his contributions to the team's incredible run in the '80s and '90s makes him one of the best running backs in team history.
But Gore is now the undisputed greatest running back in franchise history. His ability to consistently pound away for positive yards in the running game, combined with his skills as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, has vaulted him above Craig and Perry.
Who's the best?
And he's not finished just yet.
At the age of 29, and with two years left on his current contract, he'll continue piling up numbers to the benefit of this burgeoning team.
Yes, Gore is simply the best.
Note: All stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78
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