San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore may not be as valued as he once was in fantasy football, but he will be worthy of a fantasy slot in 2012. The bottom line is, the 49ers have consistently been a successful run-first team, and Gore is the lead man.
Gore is best early-middle of the season; last year in Weeks 4 through 8, Gore had a string of 5 games where he broke 100 yards on the ground, and accumulated 634 yards in that period. Another noticeable pattern is that he has had strong games outside the division against unfamiliar opponents.
Week 3 @ Minnesota:
In 2011, the 49ers faced the Eagles, Buccaneers and Lions who came with wide fronts, which Gore ultimately shredded (127, 125 and 141). The Vikings tout a 4-3 defense featuring Jared Allen, who is primarily a pass-rush specialist rather than a known run-stopper. I wouldn't bet against Gore finding lanes and getting to the second level of this depleted Vikings defense.
San Francisco's offense could also be looking to make a statement early in the season, and could try to run up the score on Minnesota if given the chance. This could result in Gore finding the end zone on more than one occasion, while the other backs look to find their niche on offense as the season progresses.
Week 4 @ New York (A):
This is not the same Jets defense from two years ago.
In 2011, the Jets did have a top-5 defense with a top-5 pass defense but their run defense which was once elite has fallen outside the top-10. Last season, the NYJ rush defense allowed an average of 111.1 yards per game, with 17 touchdowns to go with.
The Jets are still rebuilding up front, having used their first round pick on Quinton Coples with the hopes that he can eventually become an efficient outside rusher. In the meantime, Darrelle Revis is their main threat on defense, while no one in the front seven is really noteworthy. David Harris is a solid linebacker in the middle but doesn't have the surrounding support to handle the Niners run game alone.
The creativity of the 49ers run game should cause issues for the Jets defense, especially the youngsters and new role players.
Week 15 @ New England:
The Patriots invested two high picks in the 2012 NFL Draft on linebackers as they remodel their entire defense. The team is built around offense; they were able to make it to the Super Bowl this past season with the second to worst overall defense.
The 49ers on the other hand play a much more physical brand of football than New England; it's a game where they can win by dominating in the trenches. The Pats defense was 17th again the run in 2011, and even through their rough years, San Francisco has been able to consistently move the ball on the ground.
The 49ers are going to want to slow this game down, and they can do that with a methodical run attack which would be headed up by Gore. With the unfamiliarity between the teams, Gore's ability as a shifty runner could surprise and hemorrhage the Patriots run D.
This game also happens to be the Sunday Night Football match-up in Week 15, and as a game between two such teams late in the season, there are potential playoff implications. Big-time players step up on a stage like this, so the 49ers all-time leading rusher could be in for a nice primetime game.
If you plan on having or wind up with Gore on your fantasy roster this upcoming season, these three match-ups could potentially yield the most output. Gore is a versatile, all-purpose player at the tailback position and because all of these teams are susceptible up front, No. 21 could find himself with fair total yardage.