Examining Frank Gore's Change of Heart: Why the Colts Are a Better Fit Than the Eagles
Frank Gore's agreement to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles was just another instance on the long list of early announcements before the NFL's free agency period officially began at 4:00 p.m. EST on March 10th.
What? Aww, hell no. Hold up. Huh? Oh, okay. Scratch that, then.
It turns out Gore decided to forgo Philly's offer in favor of a similar deal in Indy: $8.5 million guaranteed over two years.
Gore's agreement with the Eagles was reported as such a sure thing, that
some analysts I broke down the fit between Gore and the Eagles. For myriad reasons (mainly Gore's declining receiving production, age, and presence of other running backs), the deal was a bit puzzling.
Still, why did Gore go with the Colts instead of the Eagles? And was it the right choice for both Gore and the Colts?
A Blessing in Disguise?
Well, we at numberFire aren't in the business of getting you breaking news stories or glimpses into the decisions of players, so that's not what I'm going to discuss. It does seem, though, that Gore reconsidered his verbal agreement because of Chip Kelly's approach to personnel and his penchant for treating non-quarterback skill positions as quite replaceable.
Though we can't be certain, even if Gore was handed the starting rushing gig, his receiving numbers would likely have continued to dwindle while Darren Sproles remained a threat out of the backfield. Gore has averaged only 28 targets and 18 receptions out of the backfield in his four most recent seasons (compared to 74 targets and 51 catches per season in the five seasons prior).
Overall, based on our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Gore has provided a negative overall impact for the 49ers offense in three of the last four seasons, as his Total NEP (which combines both Rushing NEP and Reception NEP) was on the wrong side of zero. Without the promise of improved receiving in Philadelphia, Gore seemed destined to be another below-expectation player.
Fitting in with Indy
Sproles' presence in the Philadelphia offense seemed destined to hold back Gore's ultimate potential as an overall threat, which he used to be early in his career.
Here are his NEP metrics and ranks among 200-plus-carry backs in each year except his rookie season (the only year of his career in which he has failed to hit the 200-carry plateau).
|Year||Rush NEP||Rank||Per Rush||Rank||Success Rate||Rank||Total NEP||Rank|
|2006||-1.52||12 of 27||0.00||12 of 27||42.63%||12 of 27||34.05||7 of 27|
|2007||-21.80||16 of 22||-0.08||16 of 22||37.07%||19 of 22||1.40||13 of 22|
|2008||-9.12||16 of 24||-0.04||16 of 24||40.17%||16 of 24||12.46||10 of 24|
|2009||-0.82||10 of 22||0.00||10 of 22||37.55%||20 of 22||37.08||3 of 22|
|2010||-13.29||15 of 23||-0.07||16 of 23||40.89%||12 of 23||19.28||8 of 23|
|2011||-16.34||17 of 19||-0.06||16 of 19||39.01%||16 of 19||-10.56||17 of 19|
|2012||12.00||4 of 23||0.05||4 of 23||45.59%||8 of 23||24.16||5 of 23|
|2013||-17.29||18 of 22||-0.06||18 of 22||40.94%||14 of 22||-13.60||19 of 22|
|2014||-14.84||15 of 17||-0.06||15 of 17||42.52%||10 of 17||-6.68||15 of 17|
Basically, Gore's Total NEP (the far right column) went from promising to the basement in the last four years -- excluding one good season. Aside from 2012 though, his Total NEP has been negative, and that has a lot to do with his diminished receiving role, as his rushing metrics have never been anything stellar for a consistent span of time.
Without receiving production, Gore's inefficient rushing has plagued his overall impact.
There's reason to believe, though, that some of that could return in Indianapolis.
New Uniform, Old Gore?
This season, 66 running backs caught at least 10 passes. Dan Herron's Reception NEP (2.32) ranked 74th in that group. Trent Richardson posted a reception NEP of 11.55, which ranked 36th, and Ahmad Bradshaw (32.85) ranked fourth. Gore ranked, appropriately, 49th (8.16).
I'm not suggesting that Gore will return to his earlier days with his reception production, but Herron showed little promise in the passing game, Richardson was somewhat competent, and one of the best receiving backs in the league, Bradshaw, is currently struggling with some off-field issues.
Rather than team up with a productive and prolific receiving back (Sproles), Gore is now slated to go to a team that has an opening for a dual-threat role, a role in which he thrived earlier in his career.
A Better Fit
Sure, Gore's rushing metrics are still underwhelming, and the results of the Colts' trio in 2014 isn't exactly promising: all three rushers finished outside the top 20 in Rushing NEP among the 60 running backs with at least 75 carries. Expecting Gore to turn around his Rushing NEP might be tricky, then.
However, in terms of Success Rate, the rate at which a player adds positively to a team's NEP, the Colts were very promising despite their Rushing NEP totals. Among that 60-running back subset, the Colts had two of the top three (sorry for all the boldface) backs in the group. Bradshaw (51.65 percent) and Herron (50.00 percent) were two of only three backs to see at least 75 carries and move the NEP chains for their team on at least half of them.
Jonas Gray (56.67 percent) unsurprisingly led the pack, but Richardson (36.88 percent) ranked just 43rd. Gore was an above-average 25th (42.52 percent), and if he can somehow encompass the Success Rate of Bradshaw and Herron rather than of Richardson and also take advantage of the potential opening in receiving, then Gore could improve his rushing metrics while boosting his receiving ones, too.
Rather than be the focal point in San Francisco or just another key to a bigger puzzle in Philadelphia, Gore can likely find balance and be a go-to guy out of the backfield in Indy while defenses also have to focus on the Colts' other weapons.
Sure, there are a lot of "ifs" in this scenario, but it's hard to think Gore will be regretting this change of heart come September because his opportunity in Indianapolis seems rather ideal.