Assessing Frank Gore's Hall of Fame Candidacy
He's clearly one of the most productive running backs in the league today.
But is he worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
To begin this discussion, we need to study the all-time great running backs before him.
History of RB Credentials for Hall of Fame
Of the 14 running backs who have rushed for at least 12,000 yards, only three are not in the Hall of Fame: LaDainian Tomlinson, Edgerrin James and Jerome Bettis. James and Tomlinson have not been retired for five years, so they are not yet eligible. That only leaves "The Bus," who seems like a good bet to make the Hall of Fame in the coming years (he was a finalist in 2013).
Five eligible running backs who have between 10,000 and 12,000 career rushing yards are not enshrined in Canton. Those names are Ottis Anderson, Eddie George, Tiki Barber, Ricky Watters and Corey Dillon.
Of this group, not one was one of the 27 selected as semifinalists for 2013.
So, it appears, in today's age, 10,000-plus yards isn't enough for serious consideration to make the Hall.
It looks like the voters are focusing more on dominance than longevity when it comes to rushers who have not reached the 12,000-yard plateau.
For example, both Terrell Davis and Roger Craig were semifinalists in 2013, even though both had fewer than 8,200 career rushing yards.
Craig, of course, was a transcendent player because of his receiving ability out of the backfield. He led the NFL in receptions in 1985, and he paced the league in 1988 with 2,036 yards from scrimmage. He was named AP Offensive Player of the Year for his efforts in '88.
Davis was arguably the best running back in the NFL in his first four seasons. He rushed for 6,413 yards and 56 touchdowns in that span, including a 2,000-yard season in 1998.
He racked up two AP Offensive Player of the Year awards, one MVP and one Super Bowl MVP before his fifth season. But Davis would play only 17 more games before injuries forced him out of the game.
Both have the individual hardware, but they are likely being overlooked because of a rather short run of dominance.
At this point, you might be thinking: Which running backs have made the Hall recently? In the last three years, Curtis Martin and Marshall Faulk were both inducted.
Martin was never the most dominant runner, but he had more than 14,000 career rushing yards. Faulk, meanwhile, was a three-time AP Offensive Player of the Year, an NFL MVP and had more than 12,000 career rushing yards. He was a no-brainer.
Gore has rushed for 8,839 yards in his eight-year career to date. He's made four Pro Bowls, and in his best season (2006), he rushed for 1,695 yards, which ranked third in the NFL.
If you've been paying attention so far, you'll know these numbers aren't good enough for Canton.
The question is, what will it take for Gore to get there?
Unless Gore shocks the NFL world with an MVP season in the near future, he'll need to get to at least 12,000 career rushing yards to enter the conversation.
And that could be a serious hurdle.
We all know NFL running backs don't have a long shelf life. Gore turned 30 in May.
The good news is, Gore hasn't shown any signs of slowing down over the last few years. He rushed for 1,214 yards last year, the second-highest total of his career.
He also averaged 4.7 yards per carry in 2012, which is his third-best career total, and the 49ers' mauling offensive line isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Another 1,000-yard season is definitely possible, but will Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Marcus Lattimore eat into his carries in the coming years?
To this point, Gore has proved his critics wrong over and over again. If he finally does begin to slow down this year, it won't be from a lack of motivation, per Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News.
To make the Hall of Fame, Gore is going to need a few more years of quality production at the least.
I compared Gore's stats to Thurman Thomas and Corey Dillon's in the chart below.
Pro Football Reference
Thomas was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007, whereas Dillon wasn't even a semifinalist in 2013.
With three or four quality seasons, Gore could catch Thomas in yards from scrimmage and touchdowns. And though it's extremely unlikely he'll win an MVP award in that time, Gore could have a shot at creating a legacy of dominance in the postseason.
Sure, playoff success shouldn't make much of a difference in Hall of Fame voting, but if Gore was awarded Super Bowl MVP in the next three or four years, his case for Canton would be much better.
However, this is asking a lot of him.
It seems likely the Niners will decrease Gore's carries this year with Hunter and James ready to take on a bigger role. If Gore doesn't lose a step, San Francisco could keep him for the 2014 season, but it's anyone's guess beyond that.
I'm guessing Gore will retire with a better resume than that of Dillon. But without serious individual hardware, it just won't be enough for Canton unless the 49ers great eclipses 12,000 rushing yards.
Will Frank Gore be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Even then, he may have trouble making it. After all, the NFL only takes seven people per year. Canton is already quite backlogged, and it will only be worse when Gore is eligible.
Though Gore may ultimately fall short of the ultimate post-career honor, he will eventually be enshrined in the 49ers Hall of Fame. Not bad for a guy who was doubted by NFL executives for his bad knees and dyslexia before being selected in the 2005 NFL draft.
*Stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, unless noted otherwise.
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