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Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Where Frank Gore ranks with top backs

By Mike Sando

Frank Gore ranked only tied for 10th in ESPN.com's rankings for running backs despite my efforts to acknowledge his consistent production and all-around game.

The hip injury that shortened Gore's 2010 season capped his production at 853 yards. I think it knocked down Gore in voters' eyes or at least gave them a reason to focus on other backs. That's what happens sometimes in this type of voting. Decisions can be close, so voters look for reasons to discount candidates.

San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore
San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore only got three top 10 votes in ESPN.com's running back rankings.
I ranked Gore seventh on my ballot. James Walker had Gore ninth. John Clayton had him 10th. None of the other voters ranked Gore among their top 10.

Paul Kuharsky, in preparing his overall piece on the balloting, asked me to break down Gore relative to Ray Rice, Michael Turner and Darren McFadden. My response:
Gore was fast approaching his fifth consecutive 1,000-yard season in 2010 when a hip injury sidelined him. That knocked him down on this list. Before that, I think he was perceived as a top-five back in the league, or right in there.

Gore ranked fourth in rushing yards from 2006 through 2009. He is a complete back. He stays low when he runs and he breaks tackles. He catches the ball well. He's a willing and sometimes violent blocker in pass protection.

Relative to the backs you mentioned, Gore has certainly played at a high level longer than Rice, Turner or McFadden. He's produced across systems for a team that has had a different offensive coordinator every season of his career. He's never had a quarterback to take pressure off him. Defenses have known what was coming and Gore has kept coming anyway. It's bitten into his production and taken a toll on his body, but he has produced.

Earlier this month, I answered a mailbag question wondering whether this was the right time to trade Gore. It's one of those questions to consider separately from the emotional connections we make with players based on how they play, what they represent on the field, how they carry themselves and the like.

Gore is to the point in his career where it's natural to wonder whether the game is catching up to his body. Because of that, the team will have a decision to make once Gore's contract expires following the 2011 season.

But there should be no diminishing what Gore has meant to the 49ers or, in my view, that he can still rank among the NFL's very best, health permitting.