Debate: Steven Jackson vs. Frank Gore

June, 3, 2011
6/03/11
10:26
AM ET
Frank Gore and Steven JacksonUS PresswireSteven Jackson or Frank Gore? Which would you rather have on your team?
Kyle from Rockford, Ill., doesn't see why ESPN.com voters would favor Steven Jackson over Frank Gore in the recent Power Rankings. Gore has a higher average per carry and more touchdowns. Also, the difference in games missed over the past three seasons -- nine for Gore, five for Jackson -- was not all that significant.

Mike Sando: I suspect how the players finished last season influenced perceptions of them. Gore's totals last season were down because he missed the final five games to injury. This is a good discussion to have, however, because both backs are outstanding. How they run and for whom they run will influence preferences. One is a Mustang, the other a Camaro. Both are classics. Both rank among the more productive backs in the NFL over the past few seasons.

We should appreciate both players while we can. The position they play exacts high physical costs. It'll be an upset if both are still producing at high levels even two seasons from now. It could be an upset if both are with their current teams beyond the 2011 season. Gore is entering the final year of his contract with the 49ers. He recently turned 28. The final two years of Jackson's contract can void after the 2011 season. He turns 28 in July. Running backs rarely produce past their late 20s.

Which back is better? This is a discussion I'd like to open for debate. Jackson has clear size advantages over just about every back in the NFL. He is physically superior. Gore's ability to produce on a similar level despite being much smaller stands as part of his appeal. There's no way Gore should be so powerful and punishing, but he is.

Both players are exceedingly tough. They play with admirable heart. Gore's 2010 season ended with a broken hip, but there's no video of him getting carted off or laying on the field. He actually came back into the game after suffering the injury. The 49ers had to hide his helmet to make sure he remained on the sideline. Jackson gives up nothing to Gore in this category. He has played through a back injury that required surgery even though his team was struggling toward a 1-15 record. He has played through numerous other injuries, including groin and finger problems last season.

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. recently downgraded Jackson as a player who had "lost a step" and could no longer make big plays in the open field. Was this simply a reflection of a groin injury limiting Jackson's stride? Or is he markedly less explosive?

The stats show Jackson breaking seven runs of at least 20 yards last season. He had 10 in 2009 and six in 2008. Gore had six last season, 11 the year before and eight in 2008. Fourteen players had at least eight last season, including Tim Hightower (eight). Darren McFadden led the NFL with 14 such runs. Maurice Jones-Drew, one of the more explosive players in the league, had eight such plays. Adrian Peterson had nine. Marshawn Lynch had five.

I've put together a chart showing cumulative rushing yardage totals for both players over the past three seasons. Jackson has played in four additional games during that span. Some of the statistical comparisons are imperfect, but the overall body of work does favor Jackson, in my view. The fact that he has missed fewer games during that span skews some of the comparisons, but Jackson was also more valuable for his ability to play in additional games.

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