RB Frank Gore, SF
The “Gut Feeling” is often synonymous with a sense
of desperation resulting from a lack of preparation. The Gut Check
is a huge proponent of studying the numbers, but there’s
a point where one can place too much emphasis on the wrong information.
This can result in the undervaluing or overlooking a player’s
potential. Therefore, The Weekly Gut Check is devoted to examining
the frame of reference behind certain number-driven guidelines
that fantasy football owners use to make decisions.
Although The Weekly Gut Check doesn’t claim to be psychic,
he does believe that he can dispel certain numbers biases and
help you make the best choices for your team. We’ll keep
a running tally of The Weekly Gut Check’s insights. This
way you can gauge his views as something to seriously consider,
or at least seriously consider running the opposite way as fast
as you can!
Statistical history has proven that rookie running backs are
the most likely to experience top ten fantasy seasons than any
other position. Here’s a list of the top 20 rookie RB fantasy
performances and their respective fantasy ranking for that season
|Top 20 Fantasy Rookie RBs
|| FF Pts
|| Rookie Year
An astounding 85% of these performances were top-five caliber
for the year in question. Sixteen of the twenty performances occurred
in separate years, which indicate this has been predictable occurrence
over at least the past 25-30 years. But the trend has taken a
downturn recently. Only three of the last six seasons had a rookie
break into the top five fantasy RBs. As much as The Gut Check
appreciates a good set of statistics, he also thinks it’s
worth mentioning that 2003’s and 2004’s rookie RB
classes were not top heavy in talent. Even the backs at the head
of these classes were backing up more established stars.
The Gut Check believes the trend will revert back to its historical
roots in 2005 because the rookie class of RBs is a strong group.
Fantasy owners will likely select at least four rookie backs within
the first five rounds of league drafts held prior to training
camp, and in many cases relying upon them as #2 or #3 starters
if they remain healthy. Here are The Gut Check’s top five
rookies for a re-draft league, prior to camp opening:
- Cadillac Williams
- Ronnie Brown
- Cedric Benson
- J.J. Arrington
History has shown the top-five performances from a rookie came
from those drafted within the first two rounds (Tomlinson, Portis,
Rogers, Dickerson, James, etc.). This doesn’t mean The Gut
Check recommends anyone to draft a rookie runner in the first
round just based on this information. This is coming from a guy
that took a chance on Edgerrin James with his first pick in a
10-team re-draft in 1999.
This is a fact The Gut Check mentions both proudly and sheepishly,
especially considering the numbers he’s about to lay out.
From 1993-1998, five rookie backs finished the season as #1-quality
fantasy RBs in any traditional league format with at least eight
teams. Courtesy of DraftHistory.com,
three of the five were drafted in the first round. Ricky Williams
and Edgerrin James were the two first-round RBs entering the 1999
season, which meant there was maybe a 60% chance one of these
guys would have a great season. This of course makes the percent
chance much smaller. The Gut Check likes to rationalize that he
had the 10th pick in a 10-team serpentine draft and his bold selection
of James was followed up with a very conservative pick of Eddie
George. The picks ultimately led him to a dominating performance
in his league, but he sheepishly admits he by-passed the just-acquired
Ram, Marshall Faulk in lieu of James and it was a huge gamble
(The draft was days after Trent Green was lost for the year, and
Vermeil was in tears. Who would have known Kurt Warner would play
There are two points here. First, there’s a big difference
in taking calculated risks, and bold risks. Statistically, The
Gut Check isn’t sure he would have selected James with his
10th pick if he broke down the numbers on RBs in the manner he
just did for this article. At the same time, it’s good to
provide some wiggle room for more subjective analysis when using
statistical research. You just have to be honest with yourself
and understand how willing you are to gamble on a player.
This leads to the second point: the Gut Check is obsessed with
sleepers. What makes these players underrated? What are the risk
factors? What is the frame of reference behind these risk factors?
For those that can stomach a higher risk factor when investing
in a player, Frank Gore, San Francisco’s third round pick
in 2005, is the Gut Check’s choice as a worthwhile gamble.
The Gut Check on Frank Gore: This is a player scouts view as
a high risk-high reward investment, but Yours Truly believes Gore
isn’t nearly as much of a gamble as he may appear. The Gut
Check would pick Gore over Ciatrick Fason, Vernand Morency, Marion
Barber III, Eric Shelton, and Maurice Clarett. In re-drafts, Gore
is a back Yours Truly would certainly consider in the mid-to late
rounds (depending on his preseason returns). To find out why,
let’s address the three questions Yours Truly mentioned
from the beginning.
Why is Frank Gore Underrated?
Potential—possibly the most dreaded word for the fantasy
faint of heart. Most of us know the story about Gore. He came
to Miami as one of the most-heralded RBs in its program. As a
freshman, Gore beat out Willis McGahee for the starting gig and
was purportedly one of the reasons Clinton Portis left early.
Before succumbing to injury, Gore averaged a ridiculous number
of yards per carry.
Upon his entry to Miami, Larry Coker said Gore had the same level
of talent he saw in only one other back he coached: Barry Sanders.
All stuff of legend, but when one looks at the fact none of this
translated to the football field. Two torn ACL’s considerably
dulled the gleam off the prospects of this complete package of
vision, power, and speed.
What are the risk factors?
Aren’t two ACL tears enough? How about a learning disability;
as poor of a Wonderlic Score as one could imagine; and what many
considered a lackluster senior year. Plus, Gore is a third round
draft pick with an established starter in Kevan Barlow head of
him on the depth chart that has averaged over four yards per carry
in his career.
What’s the frame of reference behind
In other words, can the Gut Check make arguments that lessen,
or maybe even dispel, these risks?
New 49ers coach Mike Nolan drafted Gore at the top of round three.
There’s a great difference between the top of round three
(Gore) and the bottom of round three (Clarett). The top of round
three is a place where one should still find second round talent.
Historically more second round picks have become pro bowl-caliber
players than first round picks. On the other hand, Denver chose
Clarett at the bottom of round three because they didn’t
have a fourth round pick, and feared Clarett would wind up as
a Cowboy or Jaguar in round four.
In this years’ draft the spectrum between the first and
last pick in round three is truly that wide in terms of perception.
Clarett was considered a reasonable “reach” in the
middle of round four, not the bottom of round three. As a Cowboy
or Jaguar, Clarett would be backing up either an up and coming
back (Jones) or an established star (Taylor). The Gut Check thinks
Denver reached for Clarett because Tatum Bell may be more physically
talented, but needs more refinement as a runner within the Broncos’
system. Round four picks are often a mix of highly capable overachievers
(Domanick Davis), or underachievers with character questions (Onterrio
Smith). The Gut Check thinks Clarett has a good chance to be successful
based on his talent. But in the Gut Check’s estimation,
Clarett is a greater gamble with lower return than Frank Gore.
Clarett’s physical talent as a runner compared to Gore when
both are in peak condition isn’t close. Clarett’s
ability to handle adversity is at best, questionable.
Coincidentally, Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan originally said
upon the 49ers selection of Kevan Barlow, the 49ers current starter,
in the mid-to-late third round, that he was the steal of the draft.
Barlow has shown flashes, but his flaws have outweighed his strengths.
Not so much on the field, but in the locker room and off the field.
The source of these issues often factor into effort. These flaws
haven’t been lost on Mike Nolan, a coach that mentioned
during the draft that he was intent on building a team with character.
So Gore is in a nice position for a rookie, backing up a runner
than has been somewhat disappointing for a rebuilding franchise.
In a post-draft interview with ESPN, Nolan stated Gore would at
least split time with Kevan Barlow this year, if not more.
Gore detractors point out the Miami back and only gained 948
yards in his senior year. He looked both heavy and slow, his junior
year. The Gut Check agrees, but consider the frame of reference.
Gore rehabilitated his torn ACL in 8 months and still played.
He averaged 4.8 yards per carry and carried the load for a Miami
team that lost a lot of talent to the NFL in the last three years.
Yours Truly can’t underestimate how significant it is to
come back after 8 months and be an integral part of the team.
Most backs need at least a year and a half to two years to be
productive. Willis McGahee was awarded the luxury of a year an
a half before he hit a playing field after his ACL tear—which
weren’t purportedly as bad as the ones Gore suffered. This
demonstrates Gore’s mental and physical toughness, probably
a significant factor influencing Nolan’s decision to invest
in the rookie.
Gore nearly gained 1,000 yards on a knee that prevented him from
utilizing his true running style. Think about the difference between
Willis McGahee at the end of 2003 and the end of 2004. Now McGahee
is touted as a top-five pick in many circles. Gore is a guy that
performed at probably 70%-80%. To average 4.8 yards per carry
and nearly five or more against competition the likes of FSU,
Clemson, and over seven per carry against Virginia (Ahmad Brooks
and Darryl Blackstock) later in the season illustrates the physical
skills may still be recovering, but his vision and patience are
still there. True he had some sub-4ypc games against top competition
like Florida and Virginia Tech but this wasn’t the consistent
theme of his season. This makes the Gut Check more inclined to
write these performances off to the fact that Miami couldn’t
throw the ball effectively in either contest.
In the last two to three years, Marshall Faulk and Emmitt Smith
are perfect examples of players past their physical peak that
could still gain good yardage in situational play. A lot of this
has to do with their vision and patience as runners—taking
short steps into the hole and knowing when to accelerate or make
their most aggressive move. Now think of Frank Gore playing at
70%-80% is physical capability and still gaining yardage. It’s
true there’s a big leap between the FSU’s and the
San Francisco 49er’s—as much as many would enjoy joking
that there isn’t—but Gore isn’t the only back
that suffered through an injury-plagued college career to be a
viable NFL back.
One NFL back in particular that had a great start to his college
career then tore his ACL and toughed it out through a solid, but
unspectacular season was Jamal Lewis. Not coincidentally, as a
former member of the Ravens coaching staff, Mike Nolan saw Lewis’
knee improve from his senior season to his rookie year. Nolan
also saw how well Lewis came back after his second ACL tear, and
nearly broke Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record.
This may not be some statistically proven theorem, but The Gut
Check believes one cannot underestimate Nolan’s experience
with this situation. The Gut Check believes its reasonable to
say Nolan sees Gore as a first round talent that would likely
be available in round three and jumped all over him.
What about the Wonderlic Score and the learning disability? Gore
is scheduled to graduate. That’s a testament to his work
ethic. Running back is as instinctive a position as there is in
the NFL. The Gut Check isn’t saying you can be dumb to play
the position. There are many different ways to measure intelligence.
The Wonderlic is a written test requiring quick calculation. Classroom
and academic study are methods of practicing the type of skills
in the Wonderlic. If it were so important, there would be more
demand placed on players getting the top scores. This leads to
another conclusion, the Wonderlic is as much about showing effort.
Could a low Wonderlic Score indicate it could take a player longer
to learn his assignments? Possibly, but were hear more about the
player that fails due to lack of effort than the player that tries
hard and can’t cut it.
Let’s look at a list of players that had a low Wonderlic
For a quarterback, this is a fairly low set of scores. One might
theorize that George’s showed lack of effort, which reflects
his tendency not to learn/utilize the offensive system and make
his coaches look bad. This might have added credence to many draftniks
that felt Losman was a potential coach killer due to his attitude.
If the off-season reports are indication, Losman has been nothing
short of a Gym Rat in Buffalo. What about Dan Marino? One might
guess he didn’t think it was important. Another reason why
the soon to be Hall of Famer dropped so much further than expected—teams
suspected drug use, and the test might have added bad reputation.
Steve McNair hasn’t been unreliable. Steve Young mentioned
on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown in 2003 that McNair was way
ahead of any quarterback currently playing in terms of seeing the
field and decision-making. Considering that Young scored nearly
a 40 on his Wonderlic and McNair scored less than half that amount—The
Gut Check sees this test as a very minor part of the picture in
When piecing this together, Gore ranks comparably well on the
basic system the Gut Check used to establish Brian
Westbrook as a viable fantasy threat last year:
These headings for each table are basic prototypes we’ve
all heard the pundits describe when lauding the “can’t
miss” futures of the Curtis Enis, Blair Thomas, and Sammie
Smith. On the same token these were the very same prerequisites
used to question, downplay and (in Priest Holmes’ case)
completely ignore some of the very players on this table:
Competition: Did the back start
at a top tier college program?
Durability: Did the back have
an injury history?
Performance: Did the back put
up numbers indicative of a prototypical NFL RB?
*Note: Some weights are the listed weight
upon entry to the NFL. Others such as Emmitt Smith’s, Barry
Sanders’, and Charlie Garners’ are playing weights
listed well into their careers after several seasons of weight
training and conditioning. Gore has shed about 15-20 pounds prior
to the draft and mini camp reports have suggested he looked quick
Gore’s recovery is the greatest aspect of the gamble. Will
Gore regain his trademark speed, cutting ability, and quickness?
The Gut Check believes the odds are in his favor based on his
youth, talent, and recent history with Jamal Lewis and Brian Westbrook
coming back from multiple ACL injuries in their college and NFL
Gore is a risk, but the kind that will offer great reward if it
pans out because even with what many draftniks would call a lackluster
junior year. Vision is arguably the most important aspect of running
the ball in the NFL. This was the primary trait Gore had to compensate
for his knees and conditioning not being up to standard due to
his extensive rehabilitation.
The Gut Check recommends selecting Gore at the middle to end of
round one for rookie drafts, and as a mid-to-late round selection
in re-draft leagues. If something happens to Kevan Barlow, or
Gore earns a greater role, he’s a worthwhile #3 RB this
year as San Francisco’s offense still has a ways to go.
He’s a solid receiver out of the backfield—another
component of his game that somewhat surprised NFL scouts and coaches
in pre-draft workouts and bumped up his stock. This means if the
49ers have to abandon the run early, he would get his opportunities
to handle the ball consistently.
Miami coach Larry Coker has coached his fair share of running
Four were pro bowl players; three are still considered top tier
runners; two were all-time greats for their team; and one is already
a Hall of Fame inductee. The Gut Check believes Larry Coker knows
something if he compared him favorably to the Hall of Famer. Gore’s
former UM teammates feel the same way. Considering everything
else mentioned that’s a good gamble.
- Barry Sanders
- Thurman Thomas
- Clinton Portis
- Willis McGahee
- Edgerrin James