One of the biggest winners in free agency this year was Frank Gore as he moved from the San Francisco 49ers to the Valhalla of fantasy goodness, the Indianapolis Colts. Ever optimistic with a new season gloriously laid out in front of us, fantasy owners were immediately tempted by the siren song of a major share of the Colts’ rushing workload being given to a proven RB. Early drafters in MFL10’s definitely took note of this change as his ADP shot upwards almost overnight.
From February 9th to March 7th, Gore had an ADP of 127.4 and was, on average, the 45th RB off the board. If you were one of those early MFL10 addicts and you had the foresight to select Gore at something close to this value, congratulations! You’ve almost certainly locked in a juicy profit for at least a portion of the season. In 2015, no other player’s ADP has risen as far or as quickly as Gore. So what should we think about Gore’s meteoric rise to glory?
Since April 1, Gore’s ADP has now settled into a pretty firm range as he is the 20th RB with an ADP of 43. In fact, since April 13th, he has not made it out of the fourth round in any draft.
A Brief History of Time
We can’t begin to evaluate the risks that Gore might carry for his owners without starting with his age. I’m not exactly breaking new ground when I tell you that RBs generally don’t age well. Gore is currently 31 years old and will be 32 before he even reports to minicamp this year. Not many RBs are even still in the NFL at 32, much less being counted upon to carry the load for a Super Bowl contender.
If you are drafting Gore at anything close to his current ADP you need him to perform as at least a low-end RB2 just to return value. If you’re in a PPR league, that’s going to require somewhere in the 11-14 PPG range based on the average performance over that past three years of the RB18-24. Gore himself was unable to reach this threshold last year, but we’ll give him a mulligan here since he is moving to an offense which is likely to generate many more yards and points than the 2014 49ers. Nevertheless, it would be helpful to know just how frequently a 32-year-old RB is able to attain the fantasy points per game we are going to need from Gore to return value for our pick.
I did a quick search at Pro Football Reference for all RB seasons since 1980 where a RB had gotten at least eight PPG at age 31 or higher. I found that there have been only 23 RBs who were able to average at least 11 PPG in PPR for at least 10 games at age 31 in that 35-year span.
Of those 23 RBs, I then narrowed the list to only those who were able to repeat that feat for their age 32 season, again for at least 10 games, and found there were only nine RBs who met this criteria.
Here is the list of all the RBs since 1980 who met this criteria:
The good news is that we can see that Gore comps well with some of the backs on this list such as Curtis Martin, Corey Dillon, Lamar Smith, and Fred Jackson. So it’s reasonable to assume that a RB with Gore’s physical attributes can definitely achieve the production we’d need to return value at his age.
The problem is that there is also an enormous amount of survivorship bias in this list. Most RBs of Gore’s age who comp well with him physically were long retired by this point or at best reduced to part-time players. Backs who made the age 31 list but failed to make the age 32 list also include some good physical comps to Gore such as Emmitt Smith, Thomas Jones, and more.1 From the RB Sim App:
Through The Looking Glass
It’s pretty clear that if Gore is going to join the elite group of nine RBs to achieve our fantasy point threshold at age 32 he will need to have a few things break his way. I will leave it to each of you to decide on how much risk each of these factors presents separately and in total:
- Health: Gore is well-known for having a strong training regimen. He has played in less than 14 games only once during his 10-year career and hasn’t missed a game in the past 4 years. But the plot above reminds us that past results are not a guarantee of future performance.
- Run Blocking: Pro Football Focus ranked the 49ers offensive line as the third-best run-blocking unit in the NFL last year with a grade of 43.1. The Colts were about the middle of the pack at 15th with a -7.7 grade. How well will Gore run behind a line that grades out significantly worse?
- Scheme: The Colts have said all the right things about using Gore as a 3-down back. This sure sounds good to me, but what coaches say in the offseason and what they end up doing during the regular season don’t always mesh nicely. I think there’s at least some risk that the Colts ease off on Gore’s workload in able to keep him somewhat fresh for a post-season run.
I was thrilled to be able to snatch up Gore at his ridiculously low ADP prior to signing with the Colts. Since that time I have only taken him once in MFL10 drafts and I would recommend only doing so if he is your third RB as part of an early-RB-heavy approach. As a player who is in the mix for your flex player he probably fits well enough, but hoping that he consistently finds his way into your lineup as an RB2 seems dicey to me.
- who did return to the list at age 35! (back)