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Fantasy football preview: Is Frank Gore Still A Top 20 Running Back?

Frank Gore has shown that age is just a number, but with Carlos Hyde looking like the real deal is Gore still a safe bet? In the second fantasy preview we take a look at the 49er backfield.

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I've been having a recurring dream. It's set 30 years in the future. I'm watching football on my hologram projector from the comfort of my underwater home. With a wave of my hand, I bring up the stats from all 72 fantasy players I have going that day. Near the top reads a familiar stat line. Frank Gore: 90 yards rushing, 2 receptions for 20 yards and 1 TD. However, these are only dreams and after years of proving the naysayers wrong there is growing evidence to expect big changes in the San Francisco backfield.

Many fantasy gamers have been prone to predicting Gore's collapse. A practice best reserved for those who enjoy the taste of their own words. Depending on your league settings, Gore finished 2013 ranked around 16th among fantasy running backs. Currently, he is going around RB 21 or late in the 4th round. Gore's production is still there (1000+ yards 9 TDS, 4.1 yards per carry), but his upside appears to be vanishing. Once a PPR darling, his 26 targets last season were his lowest since his rookie year. However, he ripped off more 20+ yard rushes (9) than Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, Eddie Lacy and Chris Johnson to name a few. His yards per attempt did fall from 4.3 to 3.7 over the final 8 regular season games, but he still generated 7 games of at least 100 total yards.

Those being drafted around the same pick as Frank are: Rashad Jennings, Ryan Mathews, Trent Richardson and Ray Rice. Gore's durability, offensive line and the 49er's run first approach make him one of the safer options at RB2.

Here is how I rank the five in standard non PPR leagues:

1. Frank Gore

Call me a homer, but Gore should still be in position for the lion's share of the work. Age and rookie Carlos Hyde are concerns, but a 4th or 5th round pick for 1000 yards and 8 TDs isn't too shabby. If I draft Gore, I'm also reaching a round early to grab Hyde as a handcuff.

2. Rashad Jennings

If this were a PPR league, Rashad Jennings would be #1, but I'm hesitant to draft a guy whose goal line role isn't yet defined. Also, Tom Coughlin scares me. Not only in a high school football coach "Run till you puke" way, but also in a "One mistake and it's time for a new starting running back" way. Thankfully, Jennings only has 3 fumbles in his career.

3. Ray Rice

Ray Rice was a first round pick last year and finished around RB 26. His 2013 season put him on many gamers' "Do Not Draft" list. There is also a chance Bernard Pierce earns a significant role while Rice sits the first two games. Rice is young (27) and maybe last year was just a fluke, but I'm not buying a bounce back. Not with a 2 game suspension and with a talented alternative waiting for a larger share.

4. Ryan Mathews

Ryan Matthews had one of his finest seasons last year, but again succumbed to injury and faded late in the year. If he stays healthy he'll remain the feature back, but will split time with Donald Brown and Danny Woodhead. I'm avoiding this congested backfield especially since they'll have at least 4 tough matchups against the defenses of the NFC West.

5. Trent Richardson

Out of the 5 backs listed it would be hard to argue that any has more potential than Richardson. You can buy into a Richardson resurrection if you want, but the guy looked flat out bad last year and Ahmad Bradshaw will be a factor as long as he stays upright. The Colts gave up a lot to acquire Richardson, but one has to believe he is on a short leash with a full offseason to adjust to the playbook. Fantasy is always a dice roll, but wise gamers know how to avoid risk. Richardson reeks of risk this year.

I don't believe Gore's production will nose dive this year and I think he remains a reliable RB2 or one hell of a Flex option. With all the talk of resting Gore he added about 20 carries compared to 2012. Again there has been talk of him losing maybe 50 carries this year, but it could be just training camp talk. I'm not afraid to draft Gore, but doing so does slightly changes my approach for the second half of the draft as I would look to lock up Carlos Hyde.

Projected Stats: 1075 yards rushing, 8 TDs, 12 receptions for 100 yards.

Carlos Hyde

Marcus Lattimore has yet to participate in training camp, LaMichael James should return in time for week 1, but that may be his only job...returning. And if Kendall Hunter didn't have bad luck he wouldn't have any luck at all. This leaves the door wide open for the former Buckeye.

If you select Gore in redraft leagues, make things easier on yourself and draft Carlos Hyde. Warning: There is risk here. He is currently going around the 8th round, so you could miss out on starters like Kendall Wright, Eric Decker, Greg Olsen and Dennis Pitta. A small, but significant price for owning all the shares of one of the league's best rushing attacks.

Dynasty players drafting rookies this year should be well aware of Mr. Hyde. He'll go in the first few picks in most dynasty leagues since he could very well be the starter in San Francisco next year.

Projected Stats (should he remain the primary backup): 400 rushing yards, 4 TDs. 8 receptions for 60 yards.

How do you think Gore will do this year? Do you like one of the other backs mention more? Am I full of beans? Leave a comment and let us dish.

Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting a $100,000 Fantasy Football Contest for Week 1's NFL games. It's only $10 to join and first prize is $10,000. Starts Sunday, September 7th at 1pm ET. Here's the link.