Frank Gore

Adam Levitan of Rotoworld calls Frank Gore the top “running back to avoid,” but is he?

Week one of the NFL’s regular season begins in just over two months. That’s exciting news for me, because as much as I love baseball, it’s football that really gets my juices flowing. Every Saturday night is like Christmas Eve – I put on my 49ers pajamas and leave some milk and cookies out for Harbaugh, waking up the next morning only to find that my roommates have eaten them. But who cares, it’s NFL Sunday!

I digress. Along with the excitement of watching your favorite NFL team play comes all the pleasantries. The office pools, the casual-to-absurdly-frivolous gambling and of course, fantasy football.

We all love fantasy football, right?

It’s penny-ante gambling, but it’s one of the most popular aspects of the sport today. I like to have a couple 49ers on my team, and since I’m not going to take Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers, that 49er has always come in the form of either Vernon Davis or Frank Gore.

You know what you’re going to get with Vernon. He’ll get you a good chunk of yardage points weekly, along with a couple of ownage games; 120 yards, 2 TDs, you get the idea. He’s one of the top tight ends in the league, so when it comes to that position, you could certainly do worse.

But what about Frank?

Gore has stayed a reliable choice at running back for the entirety of his career, especially if you’re in a two back fantasy league. Roll the clock back to 2006 and you’d knock it out of the park. But it’s 2012 and Frank isn’t getting any younger. I was wondering about Frank’s projected fantasy value this year, and the general consensus is to stay far, far away from him.

Take this article from Adam Levitan of Rotoworld. He placed Frank Gore on top of the list of running backs to avoid in the 2012 fantasy draft. Let’s take a look at what he said:

“Over the final eight games of last season, Gore averaged 15.3 carries for just 53.6 yards with three touchdowns. That might not scare you, but it certainly scared the 49ers.”

Okay, so he got a bit worn down at the end of the season. He had an unbelievable October, so he might be a guy to take for his early season success with a back-up option waiting in the wings.

“They were focused on getting Gore help in the offseason, using a second-round pick on Oregon speedster LaMichael James and taking a flier on Brandon Jacobs in free agency. They already had some talent behind Gore in the form of Kendall Hunter. That’s a crowded backfield.”

I have trouble subscribing to the idea that the 49ers will stop running Frank into the ground, try as I might. Every year the 49ers have found help for Gore, whether it’s Brian Westbrook, Anthony Dixon, Kendall Hunter or Brandon Jacobs. Regardless of who is behind Frank on the depth chart, he’ll get his 20 carries a game (barring injury). I know that Gore is getting old, but when it comes to another running back taking his starting role, I’ll believe it when I see it.

“But competition for snaps isn’t Gore’s only issue. Due in large part to a philosophy change in the 49ers’ offense, he’s no longer a factor in the passing game. After averaging 3.64 catches per game between 2006 and 2010, Gore caught just 1.06 passes per game last year. The Niners are extremely conservative now, meaning he’s exclusively a blocker in the passing game.

Here’s another one of those “I’ll believe it when I see it” theories. Sure, the 49ers loaded up on weapons. With Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and AJ Jenkins to complement Michael Crabtree, Alex Smith certainly has some more trustworthy receivers to throw to. But even with Andrew Luck putting up incredible numbers at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh stayed with a run-first approach. I get the feeling that Greg Roman and Harbaugh will squeeze whatever juice Gore has left in the run and pass game.

“And finally, we have age/workload concerns. Gore turned 29 in May and has averaged 299.6 touches per season over the last six years. He’s reached the peak of his career arc. “

Here’s the point that I really can’t argue with. It’s become clear – especially on runs that Gore would normally take to the house – that he’s lost a little more than a step in the last year or so. Considering the fact that Frank has averaged just over 16.5 carries/per game over the course of his career, he’s taken quite a beating. There won’t be any magic elixir that gives Frank Gore his youth back. Another year in the league will probably make Gore slower and more injury prone.

Perhaps Levitan is right – maybe Frank simply can’t be the 49ers “bell cow” any longer, and that’s why the 49ers got him some help. But would I consider him the top running back in the league to avoid?  Fantasy draft “experts” said the same thing about Gore last year – his 1,211 yard 8 TD season proved them wrong. If you’re a 49ers fan, you have to hope he can do it again this year.

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