Frank Gore is one of the most prolific running backs in NFL history. He has more than 10,000 career yards and 49ers have drafted a replacement for him since he retired last season – LaMichael James. But even though they are old friends who played together at Florida State, things might not be so easy this time around as Smith makes his return to the league with Dallas Cowboys after a 4 year absence from professional football.,

Frank Gore was an amazing running back in his time. He ran for over 10,000 yards and had a career total of 111 touchdowns. But if Frank Gore couldn’t catch Emmitt Smith, no NFL running back ever will.

If Frank Gore Couldn't Catch Emmitt Smith, No NFL Running Back Ever Will

Emmitt Smith may finally breathe a sigh of relief as Frank Gore finally hangs up his well-worn NFL cleats.

During his Hall of Fame career, the iconic Dallas Cowboys running back — we’ll ignore the two, rather, forgettable seasons he spent with the Arizona Cardinals — racked up 18,355 rushing yards. He’d be secure atop that specific scoreboard for the rest of his life, the proud owner of one of sports’ unbreakable records. Even with the new 17-game schedule, the NFL has altered far too much for anybody to dethrone him.

Gore came close, ending with a total of 16,000 running yards, only 726 yards behind Walter Payton for second place. But if he can’t get to 18,356, no one else will be able to.

Frank Gore was a role model for perseverance.

Frank Gore tells @TheSFNiners_ podcast that he will be signing a one-day contract with the 49ers and will retire from the NFL.

He had the third-most running yards in NFL history at the end of his career (16,000).

A run to remember

— Field Yates (@FieldYates) April 3, 2022

Frank Gore made his NFL debut as the first third-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers (No. 65 overall). On each side of him, who were the guys that came off the board? Adam Terry, an offensive lineman, and O.J. Atogwe, a defensive back, are two players who haven’t had much success in the professional ranks.

To put that into context, prominent 2022 draft prospects Isaiah Spiller, Drake London, Breece Hall, Jameson Williams, and George Pickens were all born in 2001, only four years before Gore made his NFL debut.

The Miami (FL) native may never have been named to a first-team All-Pro squad and only appeared in five Pro Bowls, but he established a one-of-a-kind Hall of Fame candidacy due to his unprecedented career as a running back in the contemporary NFL.

He appeared in at least 14 games for five different teams in 15 separate seasons, with the exception of 2010, when he picked up 853 yards in 11 games with the Niners. He was both durable and prolific, rushing for more over 1,000 yards in nine separate seasons than all but four other running backs in league history: Emmitt Smith (11), Curt Martin (10), Barry Sanders (10), and Walter Payton (10). (10).

Now, after waiting out the 2021 season, Gore is expected to sign a one-day deal and retire with the 49ers, according to reports. The rest of the candidates are virtually out of luck if he can’t utilize the longevity model to reach or surpass Smith, joining Marcus Allen as the only players with at least 100 running yards in 16 separate seasons.

Too much has changed in the NFL for a viable contender to emerge.

Frank Gore celebrates a touchdown for the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 47.

Frank Gore celebrates a touchdown for the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 47. In Super Bowl 47, Frank Gore celebrates a touchdown | Rob Tringali/Getty Images

Emmitt Smith was one of 15 players in the NFL to reach 1,000 yards in his last season with the Cowboys in 2001. Even with an additional regular-season game added to the schedule in 2021, only Jonathan Taylor (1,811), Nick Chubb (1,259), Joe Mixon (1,205), Najee Harris (1,200), Dalvin Cook (1,159), Antonio Gibson (1,037), and Ezekiel Elliott (1,002) made the cut.

The rules of the game have changed. Quite a bit.

As the game becomes larger, quicker, and more physical, teams are using committee systems more than ever to attempt to keep their top players for the entirety of the season and subsequent playoff run. The toll taken by larger linemen and linebackers, as well as faster, harder-hitting secondary players, is enormous, and it has severely reduced the longevity of running backs.

In addition, the league’s running backs have become younger. Rather than spending huge money to keep ball-carriers — there are exceptions, of course — the overall concept is to attempt to win with a rookie-scale option rather than wasting money that may be better spent elsewhere. At this point, the slogan is “don’t pay for running backs.”



The amount of running backs utilized and their age distributions have substantially altered during the previous 20 years. In 2001, the average age of the 77 running backs (2.5 per team) with at least 30 carries was 26.3, but by 2021, it had risen to 25.6 for the 94 eligible players (2.9 per club).

That may not seem like much of a difference, but we’re simply talking about backup running backs here, not genuine stars who might challenge Smith. And, when you consider the shift to passing-heavy offenses, that’s still a significant change.

When Smith started his career in 1990, running accounted for 36.9% of all total yards in the league. In 2001, his last season in the 1,000-yard club, running accounted for 35.2 percent of NFL clubs’ total yards. That proportion has reduced to 33.5 percent by 2021, and that’s without taking into account the growing number of mobile quarterbacks in the game and the growing number of gadget plays that put the ball in the hands of quick wide receivers.

The possibilities of putting up large single-season running statistics are dwindling, as are the chances of having long careers spanning the seasons required to chase down Smith.

There’s still a long way to go for the active NFL running leaders.


Elliott-1024x576 The Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott rushes against the Philadelphia Eagles | Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Most current rushing leaders are nowhere near the threshold figure of 18,355 now that Frank Gore is out of the picture.

  1. Adrian Peterson: free agency, 37 years old, 14,918 yards (No. 5 overall).
  2. Mark Ingram II, New Orleans Saints, 7,878 yards (No. 54 overall), 32 years old
  3. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys, 7,386 yards (No. 58 overall), 26 years old
  4. Derrick Henry (6,797 yards, No. 71 overall), Tennessee Titans, 28 years old
  5. Le’Veon Bell (6,554 yards, No. 76 overall), free agency, 30 years old

The only other members in the top 100 of all time? None of the players, including Alfred Morris (No. 86), Melvin Gordon (No. 88), and Todd Gurley (No. 94), are performing at their best.

Even among the top five, no one seems to be a genuine challenge to Smith.

Peterson might retire at any point, and he’s only rushed for 3,243 yards since 2016, which is still short of the total he’ll need to catch the all-time leader. Bell, who is much more behind, is in the same boat. The last time Mark Ingram had a 1,000-yard season was in 2019. Elliott is in risk of being displaced as the Cowboys’ main running back by Tony Pollard, and he hasn’t been nearly as efficient as he was earlier in his career.

Henry is a productive back right now, but he’s 28 years old, coming off a season in which he only appeared in eight games, and he has a powerful running style that may not age well as he enters his 30s. Even if he averaged 130 yards per game for the remainder of his career (he led the league with 126.7 yards per game during his 2,000-yard season), he’d have to play 89 more games to overtake Smith. Playing all 17 games every year would take him until Week 4 of the 2027 season, when he’d be 33 years old.

Sure, someone like Jonathan Taylor may show up and take us all by surprise. That’s not a sensible bet, considering how much the game has evolved and the amount of generational backs who have had the bottom fall out both abruptly and unexpectedly.

Gore was the contemporary era’s greatest opportunity at dethroning Smith solely on the basis of his long-standing brilliance. No one else would be able to if he couldn’t.

Unless otherwise stated, all stats are courtesy of Pro Football Reference.

RELATED: Frank Gore’s 4 Best Seasons as a Pro Bowl RB

If Frank Gore couldnt catch Emmitt Smith, no NFL running back ever will. The all-time rushing yards leader has been broken by the likes of Barry Sanders and Eric Dickerson. Reference: emmitt smith rushing yards.

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