For 49er fans, the 2005 draft is one that we remember as the Alex Smith/Aaron Rodgers debacle. It’s seen as the draft that set the franchise back at least six years. Many forget that the 49ers did in fact end up with one of the best players to come out of that draft. Frank Gore, whom the team chose with the 1st pick of the 3rd round, is undoubtedly one of the very best to come out of the 2005 draft class.
By his second season in the NFL Gore was a star– he put up huge numbers in both rushing yards (1,695) and total yards from scrimmage (2,180). He quickly became one of the most overused players in the NFL over his career– the 49ers have bucked the trend of using two or more running backs, instead relying almost solely on the legs of Gore since that breakout second season. While Gore has been one of the best running backs in the league over his six year career, this overuse has cost him and led to injuries each of the last four seasons. Last off-season the 49ers signed Brian Westbrook and it looked as if Gore would finally see a reduced workload. For reasons unknown to anyone other than Mike Singletary, we didn’t see Gore on the sidelines until after he suffered another season ending injury, this time to his hip. Now, Gore turns 28 next month and may already be running out of time to realize his championship dreams with the 49ers.
Entering his 7th season Gore is in the final season of a four-year extension he signed in the 2007 off-season. The 49ers seem to be looking at other options at the running back position as they have brought in prospects Taiwan Jones, Daniel Thomas, and Delone Carter among others for visits and could spend as high as a 3rd round pick on a running back in a draft deep with talented backs. Gore is undoubtedly a big part of the 49ers 2011 offensive plans– beyond that is anyone’s guess. The team is high on second year back Anthony Dixon, a 6th round draft choice, and is sure to add at least one back in the draft.
In 2011 Gore will have to show the organization that he can stay healthy and productive if he wants the team to negotiate another contract extension with him. Maybe more importantly Gore will need to show the new coaching staff that he is willing to share the backfield with another runner or two, something he has shown reluctance to do thus far in his career.
This is a pivotal season for Gore. If the 49ers have a young back that looks ready to take over they could look to move on without Gore. If he suffers from nagging effects of his hip or ankle injuries, or if his year ends like it did last season, he will likely not have many suitors on the free agent market. When his current deal expires Gore will be a 29 year old back just one year away from the dreaded 30 year old wall that crushes so many running backs careers. It wouldn’t be the first time the 49ers moved on from an injury riddled veteran to a younger player– just ask Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott or Roger Craig. Gore may be the saddest tale of them all– at least those guys had Super Bowl rings on their fingers when they were shown the door.