Frank Gore deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Why? Because his ability and leadership, duh. The thing is, basic statistics don't do a good job of highlighting what Frank does best. He is a model of consistency. He runs great after contact. He runs inside the tackles better than almost any back ever. He is a great blocker. He moves the chains. And, he is a leader.
I can't address all those things with numbers, but I can address his consistency. How do you measure consistency? I am proposing a simple composite measure, that while it is a little convoluted, is easy to compute and I think accurately reflects what it means to be a consistent and productive RB in the NFL.
A "consistent" back is one that can do 1 of 2 things:
1. Average 75 yards per game and 4 yards per carry
2. Average 100 total yards per game
For a 16 game season, this comes out to 1200 yards rushing or 1600 yards rushing and receiving. If you are predominately a rushing RB, then you also need to average 4 yards a carry. We are not rewarding volume alone. If you are an all-purpose back, then your total yards are more important.
I've also analyzed this on a per game basis, with minimums of 800 yards rushing or 1200 yards total for a season. That way, if you miss a few games due to injury it does not impact your averages, but if you miss a lot of time in the season than that season is eliminated from the totals.
Why did I chose the cut-offs that I did? I looked at different seasons and players, and this seemed like an appropriate threshold of goodness. 1000 rushing yards per season, the standard talked about in the media, is too easy to get. People use that number because it is a round number. It meant more when the seasons were 14 games, but at 16 games it doesn't mean a lot. Total rushing yards is also misleading. A back can easily accumulate 1000-2000 yards in junk years after he is past his prime. We are not rewarding that either.
Anyway, if we use this criteria, how do the HOF backs match up against it?
Barry Sanders = 10 of 10 seasons meeting the criteria above
Walter Payton = 10 seasons
Jim Brown = 9 of 9
Emmit Smith = 8
Eric Dickerson = 7
Each of these players was great for a number of reasons, not just consistency, but the model holds up. How about players that were mostly consistent? By consistent, I mean not a lot of AP awards or Super Bowls but a lot of great overall seasons.
HOF at least partly because of consistency (my opinion):
Curtis Martin = 8 seasons (1 AP award)
Tony Dorsett = 7 seasons (1 AP award)
Some HOF players, or future HOFers, that had many great seasons AND were consistent:
Marshall Faulk = 7 seasons (3 AP awards)
LaDanian Thomlinson = 7 seasons (3 AP) note: he is not in yet, but will be
There is a pattern developing, with 7 "consistent" seasons being HOF worthy, but not all HOF RBs do well in this analysis. The worst:
OJ Simpson = 5 seasons (5 AP)
Thurman Thomas = 5 (2 AP)
Earl Campbell = 4 (3 AP)
Marcus Allen = 4 (2 AP)
Franco Harris = 4 (1 AP)
Joe Perry = 2 (2 AP)
John Riggins = 1 (1 AP)
You can argue that each of these players got into the HOF because of their greatness, and/or leadership, not for their consistency over their careers. Marcus Allen would have had more consistent seasons if not for Al Davis. OJ Simpson was a 5 time All-Pro, so only 5 seasons but they were all great. Franco Harris and John Riggins were not "stat" guys. They got in because of their Super Bowls, and you can probably say the same about Thurman Thomas (super bowl appearances). Joe Perry was simply in a different era.
Anyway, there are a lot of criteria to consider for the HOF, but if you are going to let a player in because of their consistency, then 7 "consistent" seasons seems to be the minimum.
So, other than LT, how do the remaining non-HOF RBs look using this metric?
Fred Taylor = 7
Tiki Barber = 7
Steven Jackson = 6
Clinton Portis = 6
Edgerrin James = 5
Cory Dillon = 5
Ricky Watters = 5
Jamal Lewis = 5
Ottis Anderson = 5
Shaun Alexander = 5
Jerome Bettis = 4
Thomas Jones = 4
Eddie George = 4
Ricky Williams = 4
Warrick Dunn = 1
At the beginning of the season, every one of these guys had more yards than Frank Gore. He will leapfrog some of them, but not all. How many "consistent" seasons has Frank Gore had, using our metric?
Frank Gore = 7
That's right, Frank Gore has had as many consistent seasons as most HOFers, more than some, and more than all the non-HOF RBs ahead of him on the total yardage list. Only Fred Taylor and Tiki Barber even match him. Are Fred and Tiki HOF RB's? If you only used this metric, then yes, but I don't think you look at this metric in isolation. This metric provides a perspective, but then you also add in intangibles, like leadership or SB victories, that makes the player stand out. Unlike Fred and Tiki, Frank Gore has defined his team and been it's leader. He does all those other great things that don't show up in the stat sheet. In addition, Frank is still going. If Frank can have one more season of "consistency," then he will match a number equaled only by Curtis Martin and some of the greatest RBs to ever play the game (see above).
The only knock on Frank will be that he has not won an AP award or SB. If I am considering Frank for the Hall of Fame, however, I am not looking for that great one season that comes with the AP award, and the SB is a team thing. I am looking at a career of consistent production and being the face of a franchise for close to a decade. If Curtis Martin is a model of consistency for a long career, then Frank is right there with him. Add in the intangibles that Frank possesses, and I believe he is HOF worthy, even if retired today (don't even think about it Frank).
Thoughts? Have another metric to consider? Let me know what you are thinking. In the meantime, let's start beating this drum for Frank Gore being in the HOF. Forget "one more season" or "if he wins a SB." I think he's already earned it, his coach and teammates agree, and the consistency metric above backs that up.