I apologize for the delay on this next post. Gotta love work craziness. For future reference, players pictures are in the order they are discussed below.
We'll start with the running backs and move onto the fullbacks later (I'm afraid that analysis will be somewhat limited considering the lack of stats I'd prefer to have)
Frank Gore - 2006 Stats: 1695 rushing yards (5.4 avg)/8 TDs/5 fumbles, 61 rec. 485 yards/1 TD/1 fumble
The Good: What HASN'T been said about Frank Gore? Outside of the early fumblitis Frank Gore was THE rock of this offense. Frank Gore made it that much easier for Alex Smith to take his time developing. Championship teams have a good running game and good defense and Gore solved that first problem.
The primary issue coming into the season was whether Gore could carry the load and avoid injuries, which had plagued his career dating back to college. Excluding the concussion Week 10 at Detroit, Frank Gore has stood up to an amazing pounding as the man carrying this team. Nolan dealt away Kevan Barlow (Hallelujah!) because he had confidence in Gore. I certainly thought Gore could handle the job, but not even I could have expected the record-breaking numbers.
The Bad: The initial issue was the fumbling. However, like Tiki Barber, Gore seems to have overcome that problem. I like seeing Michael Robinson and Maurice Hicks on occasion near the goal line, but Gore deserves his own scoring opportunities.
The other major issue is his contract status, as he is a free agent after 2007. However, it appears the team is determined to get Gore locked up by training camp.
2006 Grade: A -- 2 things keeping him from an A+: 1)We'll see if there are any struggles with fumbles in 2007. 2)Long-term deal or not, let's see back-to-back healthy years
Maurice Hicks - 2006 stats: 82 rushing yards (2.8 average), 13 receptions 137 yards/1 TD, 57 kick returns, 1428 yards (25-yard avg)
The Good: Maurice Hicks provided one heck of a spark on special teams late in the year. Unless the 49ers pick up a speedster in the offseason, I'd love to see Hicks back in that role.
As a change-of-pace back he also provides an alternative to the smash-mouth style of Gore. I'm curious to see how much further he can develop as a backup to Gore. As of now, if Gore went down Hicks would be the guy.
The Bad: As mentioned above, I worry about Hicks as Gore's primary backup. Hicks had 59 carries last year and 96 the year before. if Gore can stay healthy it won't really matter but we'll see what happens.
2006 grade: C+ -- He showed a spark in the second half but was rather quiet for the most part. When spelling Gore he was never able to make much of an impact and needs to improve if he wants to remain the primary backup.
Michael Robinson - 2006 stats: 116 rushing yards (3.1 per)/2 TDs, 9 receptions 47 yards
The Good: Considering he was a college QB, Robinson was drafted as a project. As such, Robinson flashed athleticism that could be huge in the future. He was used for direct snaps, as well as halfback passes. Throwing Robinson and Arnaz Battle on the field at the same creates the potentially for entertaining craziness!
The Bad: As a project he's still got plenty of potential to exploit. He didn't do a great job at the goal line while Gore had his fumble issues. I'm curious if he's going to be used in power back scenarios.
2006 Grade: C -- I think for being a project he had a solid year with plenty of room for improvement. I'm as excited about his upside as anyone on the roster.
I can honestly say I don't know of a whole lot I can say about the team's fullbacks. Fred Beasley was as good a fullback as any out there when he wasn't getting in fights with Kevan Barlow in the locker room.
One problem with assessing fullbacks is that in many systems, their primary role is blocking for the running back. Stats such as pancakes and holding penalties are not prominently available so it's hard to say whether or not the player did a solid job. One thing I plan on doing next year is keeping track of penalties over the course of the season on my own so I can have that stat on hand. NFL.com's play-by-play will allow that and I think it will give us a better idea in that regard.
Moran Norris seemed to turn it up over the course of the year and provide solid blocking for Frank Gore. He combined with the offensive line to open up some mighty big holes.
Chris Hetherington played in only 3 games this year so it's even more difficult to make any assessment. I wouldn't be surprised if he is not back next year, or if he is it'd be a relatively low salary, close to the minimum.
I think Norris is a guy the team can build with, just based on observations. I'd prefer not to attach grades to the fullbacks as I'm still trying to figure out the best way to do that. Feel free to include grades in the comments section, or any specific insight you might have.