By: Matthew Gajewski(Twitter: @BiasedTuna)
Frank Gore is currently doing the unthinkable in the NFL. He is about to enter is age 34 season as a lead running back. What is there to like about a player of this age and with his wear and tear? Opportunity. He sits atop the Colts backfield with minimal competition behind him. In 2016 he averaged 16.5 rushes per game and 2.4 receptions per game. Additionally, in 2016 he finished 12th overall among running backs in both standard and PPR scoring. Being drafted after the 8th round in most leagues, Gore appears to be a screaming value. Rarely does a running back with that kind of opportunity slip that far.
While Frank Gore appears to have all the opportunity in the world, we need to take a deeper look at his actual opportunity. For the second straight year Gore failed to reach the 4.0-yard per carry mark, despite having 263 carries. You might be thinking “why does this matter if Gore was still able to finish rb12 in fantasy despite his inefficient season?” A few reasons stand out. The first is red zone usage. As the 2016 season moved along, Gore increasingly saw his red zone usage decline in favor of Robert Turbin. Turbin averaged just three carries per game in 2016, but amazingly he saw 19 red zone touches with many of these coming later in the year. In the last three weeks of the season Gore saw two red zone opportunities while Turbin saw 5. Not to mention, Gore did not see a single touch in the red zone during the final two weeks. While this is not a huge disparity, it does reflect a time-share in the most valuable touches on the field.
Additionally, Gore’s number are inflated a bit due to receiving touchdowns. While Gore has always been a sufficient pass catcher, he has never eclipsed 3 touchdowns in a season and averages just over 1 touchdown per year through the air. In 2016 Gore scored a career high 4 touchdowns through the air. In 2017 we will likely see this number regress closer to his career average, given his reduction in red zone usage. A few other factors that speak to Gore’s decline include his elusiveness and his breakaway potential. In 2016 he forced only 15 missed tackles on his 263 carries. Additionally, only one of those 263 carries went for 20+ yards. Declining efficiency in the run game and an outlier season in receiving touchdowns lead me to believe Gore will not provide predictable fantasy performances week to week. Combine this with the fact that the Colts brought in two back this offseason in rookie Marlon Mack and free agent Christine Michael and Gore’s situation looks quite a bit worse.
While Frank Gore appears to be a value at his current ADP, I believe he a landmine for drafters. Gore has seen his role decline in the red zone and has struggled with inefficient play his last few seasons. Assuming he stays healthy, this could put drafters in a difficult situation week to week. Gore only topped 100 yards twice last season and without the majority of red zone work I think he will be a difficult start week to week. In his range we see running backs like Mike Gillislee, Paul Perkins, and Dalvin Cook going just before Gore. After we see Samaje Perine going a few picks later. I prefer all these backs to Gore, because they have the potential to dominate their backfield. That type of upside wins leagues. Also, if they don’t win their backfield they are easy cuts for more enticing waiver options. Gore is the type of asset that likely won’t be bad enough to cut, but also won’t be good enough to start comfortably. Simply put, Gore does not have league winning upside with his current role in the offense.