State Your Case: Frank Gore Hall of Famer or numbers man?


Frank Gore photo courtesy Miami Dolphins

Frank Gore is a fascinating test case of the dilemma posed by The Great Compiler because he certainly has been one. Judging by his first game this season, he’s far from done. But do numbers alone make you a Hall of Famer?

Last Sunday, in the first game of the 2018 NFL season, Gore had a typical Frank Gore day. He averaged 6.8 yards a carry, rushing nine times for 61 yards in Miami’s 27-20 win over the Tennessee Titans and played a key role in the Dolphins’ first scoring drive. He was more than serviceable but less than spectacular.

One could say the same of his oddly unnoticed but highly productive 14-year career.

The 35-year-old Gore shared the ball with 24-year-old Kenyan Drake, who ran more often than he did but for fewer yards. Do you think Jim Brown or Emmitt Smith or Walter Payton would have ever shared the ball with Kenyan Drake?

Yet those 61 yards left Gore only 15 rushing yards short of passing Hall-of-Famer Curtis Martin to become the fourth all-time leading rusher in NFL history. If only three guys ever ran for more yards than you, shouldn’t that make you a Hall of Famer in a rush five years after retirement?

Perhaps, but consider the other side of the story. In 13 full NFL seasons plus one 2018 game, Frank Gore has run for 14,087 yards, yet has never once led the league in rushing. In fact, Gore has been in the top five rushers only once in his career (third in 2006 with 1,645 yards). Is a runner who not only never led the league in rushing but for the most part never came close to it in any single year truly worthy of induction in Canton?

That depends on how you look at it. If you look at production you will find that only one player in NFL history had 1,200 or more yards from scrimmage 12 times. His name is not Jerry Rice, who Gore passed last season. It is Frank Gore, who has done it now for 12 straight years.

These are the horns of a dilemma Hall of Fame voters will find themselves impaled on five years after Gore retires because the deeper you look into him the more confusing the picture becomes.

Be honest. Did you ever once watch Frank Gore play these past 13-plus seasons and think “Hall of Famer?” No you did not.

Yet of all the backs in NFL history with 3,000 or more carries only Barry Sanders averaged more than his 4.4 yards-per-carry career average. In fact, Gore has averaged more yards per carry than Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, and ranks even with Walter Payton and Eric Dickerson and ahead of Martin (4.0 yards per carry).

Even when it comes to the Hall-of-Fame of Compilers, Gore’s performance exceeded the best. Jerome Bettis retired after 13 seasons as the seventh all-time leading rusher with 13,662 yards. Gore topped that number by 364 yards after his 13th season in large part because he’s averaged 4.4 yards per carry to Bettis’ more plodding 3.9.

Jerome Bettis is in the Hall of Fame.

The top four rushers all-time ahead of Gore and eight of the next 10 behind him are all Hall of Famers. Ranked 10th, Adrian Peterson is still active, and many people talk of him as a lock for enshrinement in Canton. Yet he’s rushed for nearly 2,000 fewer yards than Gore in his career. So how is that guy a “lock’’ in the eyes of most, while someone who has produced more could be locked out? Don’t know but ask Edgerrin James, who feels like he may be in the same boat as Gore.

The fact that Gore was never considered the best back in the league in any year he’s played may be part of it. The fact he failed to make the 2000s’ All-Decade team that selected four backs is a larger stumbling block.

Yet when one looks at those backs, we find Hall-of-Famer LaDainian Tomlinson, James, Shaun Alexander and Jamal Lewis. All four rank behind Gore in rushing yards, with Tomlinson sixth, James 13th, Lewis 24th and Alexander 36th. How did they all pass a guy who has passed them all in production?

Tomlinson was simply better as a dual purpose runner and receiver. James was more versatile and more explosive, too, and probably also better when at his best. But what did the other two have over Gore? They each had one season to remember, while Gore seems to be having a career many may forget.

In 2003, Lewis rushed for 2,006 yards to become the league’s MVP. Two years later, Alexander led the NFL with 1,880 rushing yards, 27 rushing touchdowns and also was named MVP. They were, for one bright, shining moment, brilliant. Frank Gore? Consistent yes. Brilliant? Not really.

Frank Gore is the reliable and productive employee no one notices until a month after he retires. Only then do people see that things aren’t getting done as well as they used to be.

By the time he’s done, Gore will end up trailing only Smith, Payton and Barry Sanders in rushing yards, and in total yards from scrimmage he has been equally illuminating. His 17,759 yards leave him within 431 total yards of Sanders and 697 yards away from passing Tomlinson. If he passes both this season, which is possible, it would leave him fifth all-time in total yards from scrimmage and fourth in rushing yards. That may punch his ticket to Canton, but more than likely he won’t get in on the express train.

Remarkably, he has accomplished all this despite the fact that when Drake was only eight years old, Gore had already had the first of two ACL surgeries he would face while still in college. One on each knee, to keep things balanced.

By the time Drake was a budding 16-year-old star at Hillgrove High in Powder Springs, Ga., his future running mate with the Dolphins was coming back from surgery on both shoulders and a broken hip. Gore suffered that hip injury in the 12th game of the 2010 season. A year later he rushed for 1,211 yards and started 15 games. In the ensuing eight years, playing on two reconstructed knees, with two reconstructed shoulders and a repaired hip, he missed only one start and has not missed a single game.

Part of ability is availability, and Frank Gore has almost always been available to run. Should he be penalized for that with the label of “compiler,” as if that was a mortal sin rather than an admirable trait?

If he can rush for 500 yards or more this season, Gore will be one of only eight backs 35 years or older to do that. If he can hit 1,000 (which he has done nine times and missed by only 39 yards last season with the Indianapolis Colts) he would join an even more select fraternity. Only two backs, John Henry Johnson and John Riggins, ever rushed for 1,000 yards or more after the age of 35. Gore would become the third. The other two are in the Hall of Fame. Frank Gore?

If he manages to score five touchdowns this season Gore will have scored 100 times, passing Eric Dickerson and tying him at 23rd all-time with Martin and Franco Harris. All three are in the Hall of Fame. Frank Gore?

Who knows?

If spectacular is the measuring stick, Frank Gore will face the same uphill fight getting to Canton he faced getting into the NFL after blowing out ACLs in both knees while still at the University of Miami. But if production is the measuring stick, well, you state the case against him. He’s already quietly made his case.

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19 Comments

  1. bachslunch
    September 11, 2018
    Reply

    There’s no question that Frank Gore (0/5/10?) is the ultimate longevity candidate at RB. He’s a lock to end up 4th all time in rushing yards and might even reach 3rd with a solid enough season this year. But there is indeed precedent for inducting compilers at the position if they amass enough yardage. Players like Jerome Bettis and John Riggins have made the HoF while having no discernible peak and a boatload of rushing yards relative to their time. Like them, he’ll probably wait a good while but get in. I’m okay with his being elected if it happens, and my guess is it likely will.

    • brian wolf
      September 12, 2018
      Reply

      Anyone grousing about Paul Warfield or Michael Irvins numbers and play needs to have their heads examined.

      As for Gores years in Indy, yes they werent great but what else did Indy have ?
      The line was just decent, Luck was either hurt or running for his life and though Hilton was a playmaker, he drops too many balls. Dorsett was a bust and we have another Popeye Doyle. Despite age and a non grass field, Gore was one of the few bright spots.

      As for compiling players, TO is the ultimate example. He played so long the numbers caught up with him, though admittingly, he was a touchdown machine and a beast once he actually caught the ball. He never even played in a Conference Championship game, though he caught nine passes and no TDs in the Super Bowl. Henry Ellard, Art Monk and Issac Bruce were compilers too but should they all be penalized for staying healthy and playing game after game ? Due to Vegas/Fantasy shenanigans, todays players cant even line up week after week.

    • September 12, 2018
      Reply

      Just have to say to everyone … this is one of the best conversations I’ve seen on this site. Lot of good stuff here by guys who know their stuff.

  2. 1976 Pitt Panthers
    September 11, 2018
    Reply

    Jerome Bettis and John Riggins were definitely not compilers, they had both great seasons, and ended their careers stronger than some other HOF backs, Frank Gore on the other hand, has been quite ineffectual for most of these last few seasons, to the point he may be delaying his own election. Boatloads of ineffectual performances in meaningless games for losing teams. At least Emmitt Smith had far fewer carries for Arizona, and knew when to leave.

    Also, we really can’t compare the yards per carry of a slow, 260 pound back like Bettis, to other great RBs. Riggins was a track star in college, who kept his speed for much of his career. And Gore was even lighter.

    • bachslunch
      September 11, 2018
      Reply

      Riggins was a 1st team all pro and pro bowler only once each, and never finished higher than fifth best in rushing yards in a season (which occurred during his lone 1st team all pro season, in 1983). Bettis’s peak is only slightly larger than Riggins’s, finishing second in rushing yards in 1994 and third in 1996 and 1997, and was a 1st team all pro only twice; he was a pro bowler 6 times.

      In neither case can one easily argue there’s much of a peak, and in fact, it’s nearly non-existent in Riggins’s case. But Bettis was 5th all time in rushing yards when he retired, while Riggins was 3rd.

      That all screams “compiler” to me.

      Gore (0/5/10s?) was 3rd in rushing yards once (2006) and 6th once (2011) and likely will finish 3rd or 4th in career yards when he retires. I don’t see much difference between these three RBs from this standpoint. He too is a compiler. And his last four seasons have seen him with 1106, 967, 1025, and 961 yards rushing for the season. I’d hardly consider that “ineffectual.”

      • 1976 Pitt Panthers
        September 12, 2018
        Reply

        My reference point for Riggins was his strong 1984 season, over 1,200 yards rushing for a playoff team. That was his next to last season, and Bettis was a significant contributor to a 15-1 team in his next to last campaign. Bettis has a pivotal game in his final season.

        While I do think Frank Gore will eventually reach Canton, he feels like a true compiler. He’s been a master of the 60 yard rushing day, and very rarely can even crack 100. His time with the Colts was forgettable, and it feels like he’s just holding on to inch up the rushing charts. Lots of ineffectual games with losing teams doesn’t seem like the way a HOF back should go out.

        • bachslunch
          September 12, 2018
          Reply

          1983 and 1984 were Riggins’s two best years, though he was named a 1st team all pro (his only time ever) in the former and not the latter year — which is the one being touted — and he made the Pro Bowl neither time. 1983 is the better of these seasons, actually. Interestingly, no organization apparently thought Riggins was at elite level in 1984 — he didn’t even make 2nd team all pro or all conference, if the PFR website is correct. He finished 5th and 6th respectively in the league in rushing yards at the time, which were his two best such showings, and it should be noted that 1985, his last year, saw a big dropoff in production. Prior to 1983, he had been a very good but never elite RB with several down seasons, and looks to have been an okay receiver at best; Gore appears to have been a bit better at pass catching than Riggins, given the numbers I’m seeing.

          Riggins played a total of 14 seasons, landing in the top ten in yards rushing only four times (never ending up higher than 5th, and not much of a peak, regardless), and he was 3rd in all-time rushing yards when he retired. This strikes me as the textbook definition of a compiling RB, and I’m very hard-pressed to see much difference between the two players. Just wondering — what separates a “true” compiler from one who is not? I’m finding this distinction puzzling.

          It would be interesting to see the actual game-by-game numbers throughout his career to see if they actually support the notion that Gore was “the master of the 60 yard rushing day, and very rarely can even crack 100” — as well as for Riggins. And then to see how this compares to the league norm, which is going to be crucial. Some of this info is probably on the web — do you have a link?

          Gore’s years with Indy saw him gain 967, 1025, and 961 yards on the ground. In fact, he was a top-10 rusher in the first of these years (9th overall). Sorry, but I’m not seeing the “forgettable” part to this. If he had ridden the bench or ended up with 500 rushing yards, I could see that characterization.

          And there’s another question begging. Does it matter when a player’s peak comes in his career? If so, why?

          • Justin
            September 12, 2018

            Bachslunch: I think part of the distinction between Gore and Riggins is that Riggins was the best player on a Super Bowl champion (1982), MVP of the SB, and had his career’s signature run to win the SB in spectacular fashion (which concluded a DOMINATE playoffs). He was also the best player on the highest scoring offense in NFL history (at that time) and went to another Super Bowl in 1983 where is team had an off day and were upset by an amazing Marcus Allen led Raiders. Then he was very good on another playoff team in 1984. All of this occurred well into his 30s. It didn’t hurt that he did all of this an intangible panache that made him a “star” personality. As a result, he didn’t “wait a while” but got inducted in his second year of eligibility. As you said, contest matters. Riggins was a dominate player for a dominate team, was MVP of the Super Bowl, was at his best in the 82 playoffs, and did it all with style. These are not just compiler stats. In comparison, Gore just doesn’t have that signature run. He has largely played on forgettable teams (except for the brief Harbaugh period in SF). This is not to say that Gore doesn’t belong in the HOF, and I would never say someone should stop doing what the love band leave the stage. I’m just saying that there was an intangible in Riggins HOF case that is different from Gore’s. Gore likely has his own intangible—the quiet, steady warrior who consistently played and played well. He is basically the Eddie Murray of RBs (to make a baseball analogy). The HOF should be big enough for Riggins, Gore, Sanders, Smith, Campbell, and Sayers. All different runners with different styles and accomplishments.

          • bachslunch
            September 12, 2018

            Appreciate the reply. But I’m still very mystified by several things. So let’s keep it simple:

            1. poster “1976 Pitt Panthers” seems to suggest that a late peak makes a player more HoF deserving. I don’t understand the argument at all. If you have two players, both with Hall-level numbers and one peaks early and the other peaks late, why would the latter be more deserving?

            2. as I understand it, the definition of a “compiler” would be a skill-position player with a small or non-existent peak who retires well-up in the important counting stats for his position. If we accept this as correct, Bettis, Riggins, and Gore all would appear to fit the criteria. Poster “1976 Pitt Panthers” is suggesting otherwise, and I have no clue what he thinks the difference is.

          • brian wolf
            September 12, 2018

            Let me correct that, haha …Terrell Owens did play in the 97 NFC Championship with SF. Like the Super Bowl he played well but no TDs.

          • Jeff
            September 12, 2018

            I’ve always found the lack of Pro Bowls for Riggins a bit strange – he wasn’t named to it in his best years, and never went to one as a Redskin. For me, it just tells me that Pro Bowls are impressive but they’re not everything. I actually think Riggins might be a little underrated. Probably lost some production by playing with Namath, and then by playing under George Allen (Riggins supposedly asked Allen sarcastically to give him a new jersey number in the 60s since he felt like he was a guard who lined up in the backfield). He seemed to get better as he got older, despite being such a punishing runner. He was in pretty elite company on all-time lists when he retired, and obviously had an incredible postseason run….As for Gore, I’m actually a fan. No, I’ve never thought he was one of the top 3 backs in the league, but I still think he’s been an outstanding runner with longevity, a pretty good receiver…not too many postseason opportunities but he did have a 100 yard game in a Super Bowl. I don’t expect him to get elected on the first ballot but I do see him as a Hall of Famer.

  3. PaulL
    September 11, 2018
    Reply

    Only one RB has more 1000y rushing seasons than Gore and if Curtis Martin is in, no reason Gore should not be

    • 1976 Pitt Panthers
      September 12, 2018
      Reply

      1000 yard seasons by a back who plays 16 games isn’t really a big deal, quality should trump quantity. Curtis Martin was more dynamic than Frank Gore, with seven seasons over 1,200 yards, while Gore has three.

      Martin was also much better late in his career, amassing over 3,000 rushing yards in his age 30 and 31 seasons. Gore has just four 100 yard rushing games since 2015, he just hasn’t been a factor in the majority of games he’s played. I agree the totality of Gore’s work will get him into Canton, but at some point, you’d like to see him step aside.

      • bachslunch
        September 12, 2018
        Reply

        I don’t think one can make a direct raw stats comparison between Martin and Gore so easily. They only overlapped each other by a year (2005). I’d prefer to see some kind of period adjusting attempt made.

        Can I ask also what makes someone a “factor” in a game? Note that since Peyton Manning’s days, Indy has been a pass-happy franchise, which won’t normally favor RBs putting up eye-popping stats. It reminds me a bit of the grousing one occasionally sees about Paul Warfield’s or Michael Irvin’s supposed unimpressive numbers, which were put up on run-heavy teams. Context matters here.

        And I guess I need to ask again — why does it matter when a player’s peak comes in his career? Marcus Allen was very much an early-peak guy, yet he’s in the HoF.

        • 1976 Pitt Panthers
          September 12, 2018
          Reply

          But Marcus Allen still had his moments, as a Chief, both in the regular season, and postseason. So he left the game with a recent history of why he was a HOF back. Ditto for Curtis Martin, and John Riggins. And we still saw greatness from Jerome Bettis at times in 2004-05.

          When was the last time Frank Gore starred in a meaningful football game, and played a central role in the win? Gore is now in his fifth season of averaging roughly 60 yards per game, and he’s frequently in the background now. Yes, he’s a HOF back, but the wait will likely be longer with a stacked field, and voters seeing a player farther and farther removed from his peak.

          100 yard games are a great barometer of the value of the RB position, and the all time listings bear this out. As far as the WR position goes, Michael Irvin more than made up for his reception total with his postseason play, and Paul Warfield played under different rules, and with teams which preferred to run.

          • bachslunch
            September 12, 2018

            What you’re suggesting is that a late peak makes a player more HoF deserving. I don’t understand the argument at all. If you have two players, both with comparable Hall-level numbers and one peaks early and the other peaks late, why would the latter be more deserving?

  4. brian wolf
    September 11, 2018
    Reply

    Yes Ron, Gore has stated his case. He deserves to be in the Hall.
    He has the heart of a lion and produces to help his team win.
    He has been an NFC Champion and helped his team to three consecutive NFC Championship Games.

    The only knock on Gore in my mind is that he plays in an era where defences dont really worry about the run anymore and are either unable or unwilling to tackle.
    Thats why his 4.4 rushing average is high, but its still impressive.

    What more does he have to do ?
    He takes care of his body, runs well
    on the field, produces and helps his team win. He doesnt whine like diva receivers or make the money that pedestrian QBs make, he just PLAYS, year in and year out.

    Yes there are more spectacular runners, Chuck Foreman of the 70s, Billy Sims of the 80s, even Timmy Brown of the 60s, but these guys suffered injuries and couldnt stay durable like Gore.
    If the HOF just wanted thrilling runners then Willie Gallimore, Timmy Brown, Paul Lowe, Abner Hayes, Mike Garrett, Chuck Foreman, Billy Sims, William Andrews, Roger Craig, James Brooks, and others would already be in. Thats also the argument for Peterson and James now.
    But runners also have to block and pass catch well and Gore has done that to. Did Sanders or Jim Brown or Adrian Peterson or Dorsett block ? Absolutely not, but hey, they sure ran well.

  5. 1976 Pitt Panthers
    September 12, 2018
    Reply

    A good conclusion to a potential HOF candidate’s career will always be helpful because it brackets the career. Having a likely HOF player linger with mediocre seasons just means his peak is further and further in the rear view mirror. At least the future HOF backs who declined quickly with different teams retired in a couple years or so. Gore is working on five seasons of mostly meaningless games, with losing teams, and 60 yard rushing days. That’s the crux of the matter, and it’s reasonable to assume some HOF voters won’t be impressed with this compiling.

    John Riggins is an outlier here, because of how his career took off with the Redskins. Jets fans do recall two strong seasons in the 70s, before his great run in D.C. Marcus Allen was great early, but events beyond his control reduced his numbers later, before is revival with KC. Bettis ripped off four monster seasons before the inevitable wear and tear caught up to him in 2002-03. Of course The Bus still had something in the tank in 2004-05

    • bachslunch
      September 30, 2018
      Reply

      I don’t think finishing with a bang makes any difference to a knowledgeable HoF voter — and since they’re the ones voting, that’s all that matters. Plenty of players had bad years at the end of their careers, including first ballot folks like Johnny Unitas and OJ Simpson.

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