The 49ers">San Francisco 49ers, one of the most storied franchises in NFL history, have been in a bit of a rut ever since their last playoff appearance in 2002. In fact, during that span they've posted a dismal 46-82 (.359) record.
But don't get them wrong—they have been on the bubble over the past few seasons and have got some very talented pieces in place.
One of their best players has been running back Frank Gore, who, since they drafted him in 2005, has established himself as one of the league's premier players at this position.
Being a key component to their offense, his production has a direct correlation to the team's overall performance.
With that said, here are eight bold predictions for Frank Gore in 2011.
Oftentimes, running backs need the ball early and frequently in order to get into an offensive rhythm.
Gore is no different, and if you take a look at his stats, you'll see that he's been at his best when given a lot of touches.
In 2006, which was his best season by far, he was given the rock either rushing or receiving a total of 371 times—about 23 per game.
In the years following, he hasn't even come close, and you can see a significant dip in production.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh knows that Gore is one of his most dynamic playmakers on offense, and he will incorporate him heavily into the playbook.
Expect Gore to get more touches in 2011.
His production has a direct correlation to the team's overall performance.
Running backs have one of the most grueling positions to play in the NFL, because they have a massive workload and are constantly being hit. Perhaps that's why most only last a few seasons, and virtually all decline by the time they hit 30 years of age.
At 28, Frank Gore is nearing that mark. If you tack on the fact that he's been their sole carrier in the backfield, it's tough for him to withstand a full NFL season, especially considering he's only had one in his entire six-year career.
Unless they acquire a complementary back who can relieve Gore of some of the burden, I find it highly unlikely that that trend will change this season.
By the way, with the lockout looming, I expect much more injuries than in the recent past, because the players won't be in playing condition. Just look at Darrelle Revis, who sat out all of last year's training camp.
Fumbling is a one-way ticket to unemployment in the NFL and it's simply unacceptable for running backs. Frank Gore has had a prolonged problem with fumbling, as he's had 26 in his career, including four last year.
However, do note that he has laid the ball on the ground only once since he lost two in Week 5. Apparently, he's learned his lesson.
Expect less than three fumbles from Gore in 2011.
While amassing yards is important, what truly matters is the points on the scoreboard, so putting up touchdowns is a great measure of a running back's impact on a team.
Gore hasn't been the stellar goal-line back they hoped he would be, and he only got into the end zone on five occasions last season.
In years past, he's only reached double digits once, when he scored 13 touchdowns in 2009.
With more touches and an implementation of a new offense, expect Gore to score 10+ touchdowns in 2011.
Frank Gore may not be the most consistent running back around, but he has a knack for breaking loose for a big gain on occasion, which is how he's made a name for himself.
In his career, he's already posted 49 runs of over 20 yards. At the same time, though, 26 of them came in 2006 and 2009.
Despite falling to just six such runs last season, I believe he gets back to his highlight-reel ways.
Expect Frank Gore to break off runs of 20 yards or more at least 10 times in 2011.
Having a running back who can catch out of the backfield does wonders for the passing game, because it gives the quarterback a security blanket to get out of possible danger.
Frank Gore has soft hands and has proven to be an effective playmaker as a receiver. In six seasons, he's already hauled in 270 receptions for 2,283 yards and scored nine touchdowns.
With Jim Harbaugh coming in, look for him to improve their aerial attack. And I bellieve part of that will mean spreading the ball and getting it to Gore.
With that said, expect him to have 50+ receptions for over 450 yards in 2011.
While his production on the field has been an integral part of the 49ers offense, Gore has also been a star in fantasy football.
In fact, last year, had he stayed healthy, he was projected to finish sixth in points for running backs.
That said, despite his injury concerns, his versatility and easy schedule means he can still be a late first-round talent and pay dividends.
Expect Frank Gore to finish among the top 10 running backs in fantasy football in 2011.
Being elected to the Pro Bowl is a great honor, because it means being one of the best at your position in the league.
Taking a look at last year's participants from the NFC, Michael Turner, Adrian Peterson and Steven Jackson, all have a chance to lose their spot next year.
Turner is getting up there in age, and the Falcons drafted a complementary back. Peterson's production may dip based on his decline towards the end of last season coupled with shaky quarterback play with a rookie behind center. Jackson may not get as much involvement on offense, since the reins will be handed over to Sam Bradford in Josh McDaniels' pass-heavy system.
With that being so, it opens up doors for someone else to sneak up onto the list.
Frank Gore has already been to the Pro Bowl twice in his career, and expect him to make it to a third in 2011.