The Enduring Mediocrity of Surefire NFL Hall-of-Famer Frank Gore

Gore moved into third place on the NFL's all-time rushing list on Sunday

The Enduring Mediocrity of Surefire Hall-of-Famer Frank Gore
Frank Gore runs off the field after a game against the Denver Broncos. (Timothy T Ludwig/Getty)
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In a piece written in May, NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt declared Frank Gore — who is the only player in NFL history to have logged 1,200-plus scrimmage yards in 12 consecutive seasons — to be a “lock” for the Pro Football Hall of Fame thanks to his “consistent excellence.”

While Brandt is likely correct in his assessment that Gore — who has rushed for approximately 11 miles on the football field over his 15 NFL seasons — will make it to Canton once he’s eligible, we’d argue it’s actually due to his enduring mediocrity.

On Sunday, Gore moved into third place on the NFL’s all-time rushing list with a six-yard run in the fourth quarter of the Buffalo Bills’ game against the Denver Broncos, passing the 15,269-yard mark set by Barry Sanders.

Now at 15,289 career rushing yards after picking up 65 on Sunday, the 36-year-old tailback sits behind only Canton inductees Walter Payton (16,726) and Emmitt Smith (18,355) on the all-time list.

“I’m happy I was able to hit this milestone at home in front of the Buffalo fans,” the former Miami Hurricane said after Buffalo’s 20-3 win. “It hasn’t been an easy road to get to year 15, but I am very blessed.”

Blessed … and pretty bland in terms of being an all-time NFL talent.

Gore, who has played for the San Francisco 49ers (2005-2014), Indianapolis Colts (2015-17), Miami Dolphins (2018) and Bills (present) throughout his career, is third on the NFL’s all-time rushing list largely because he has been able to suit up for 221 of a possible 235 regular-season games.

That’s a notable accomplishment — and it may actually be the most impressive one on Gore’s résumé.

A third-round pick who made his debut in 2005 against the no-longer-in-existence St. Louis Rams, Gore is the NFL’s s third-leading career rusher despite never leading the league in rushing for a single season, something the players ahead of him on the list, Payton and Smith, did one and four times, respectively.

Since Gore entered the NFL, here are all the backs who’ve led the league in rushing: Shaun Alexander, LaDainian Tomlinson (twice), Adrian Peterson (three times), Maurice Jones-Drew, Arian Foster, Chris Johnson, DeMarco Murray, LeSean McCoy, Ezekiel Elliott (twice) and Kareem Hunt. (Christian McCaffrey will likely win the rushing title this year.)

Of those names, only Peterson (13,861) and Tomlinson (13,684) rank in the top 10 on the all-time rushing list and McCoy is the only other back who is even in the top 30.

It’s a true testament to Gore’s durability that he’s ahead of Peterson and Tomlinson on the all-time list as, in addition to never leading the league in rushing, the highest he’s even finished is third, which he did with 1,695 rushing yards in 2006. 

Other than that, Gore only has five other top-ten finishes — 2011 (6th), 2012 (10th), 2013 (9th), 2014 (9th) and 2015 (9th) — to his name. 

And touchdowns? Forget about it.

Twenty-first on the all-time list with 79 rushing touchdowns, Gore only has two top-ten finishes to his credit — 2009 (9th) and 2013 (6th) — and has never rushed for more than 10 touchdowns.

For comparison’s sake, Peterson rushed for double-digit touchdowns eight times during his career and is fifth on the all-time list while Tomlinson did it did nine times — including a 28-TD year in 2006 — and is second on the list.

In terms of awards, Both Tomlinson (2006) and Peterson (2012) won league MVPs during Gore’s time in the NFL while the best he’s done is to be named a second-team All-Pro (2006).

None of this is to say Gore is a bad player or that he doesn’t deserve a gold jacket once he’s eligible. Based on his place on the all-time rushing list, he is and probably does.

But, make no mistake: Gore’s bust in Canton will have more to do with a wealth of will than a surplus of skill.

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