Getting Gore was big score for 49ers

The 49ers knew what they were doing when they made the steal of the 2005 draft by selecting running back Frank Gore in the third round. Gore so far has been one of the most productive players to emerge from that draft, displaying top-of-the-first-round talent this season on his way to becoming one of the NFL's leading rushers and challenging for the league's 2006 rushing title.

Scot McCloughan, the 49ers' vice president of player personnel, had been following Gore's career closely since his freshman season at the University of Miami. Like many other NFL personnel gurus, McCloughan became wary of Gore's NFL viability after he suffered torn anterior cruciate ligaments in each of his knees a year apart, with both injuries requiring major reconstructive surgery.

But McCloughan wasn't quite as wary as others.

"The only reason he lasted until the third round was because of that," McCloughan said. "His natural skills alone made him a first-round talent. But I'm sure there's some teams that took him off the their draft board."

But not the 49ers. McCloughan kept a close eye on Gore after he came back for his junior season at Miami just nine months after his second torn ACL surgery. He wasn't the same Gore that had flashed onto the college scene as a promising freshman, having gained weight during his layoff and showing obvious effects of two major knee surgeries over a 16-month span.

"But then he got down (in weight) a little bit toward the end of the year, and then you saw some of the natural ability starting to come back," McCloughan said. "Then he came out (for the draft) as an underclassman."

The 49ers did their homework. They studied Gore closely at the NFL Combine in February. They had their team doctors thoroughly examine both of Gore's knees. Gore passed the test with the 49ers.

"We do an awful lot of medical work on these guys to see where they stand as far as, is it an issue or not?" 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "Some guys have two knee (surgeries) and they're done. In some guys, arthritis sets in, they're done and we don't even touch them. Frank's (knees) were well done. We didn't see it as a problem area."

Said McCloughan, "Every organization's doctors look at it different. Our guys thought both knees were stable, thought both reconstructions were done well and he had enough strength in his quad and hammies (hamstrings) that it should not be an issue with us."

So Gore took a prominent place on the draft board of the 49ers, who wanted to draft a running back to provide competition for incumbent starter Kevan Barlow. With the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, the 49ers could have selected any college running back in the land. But that pick was reserved for Alex Smith, now the team's starting quarterback.

The top three running back prospects in the 2005 draft - Auburn's Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams and Texas' Cedric Benson - all were grabbed within the four selections after Smith. Even though Gore had impressed other teams besides the 49ers with his combine tests and workouts, he slid past the first round … and then past the second round.

"I was at Miami (as the Dolphins' offensive coordinator) when Frank was coming out and we thought pretty highly of him," said Scott Linehan, now in his first season as head coach of the St. Louis Rams. "But we ended up drafting Ronnie Brown with the second overall pick. (Gore) was down there and we worked him out individually. You could see he was going to have potential to be what he is now. He certainly would have been a high high-round pick if he hadn't had those injuries coming out."

But each NFL team passed on Gore - many of them twice - and that's a list that included the 49ers, who selected offensive lineman David Baas with the first pick of the second round, the No. 33 overall selection.

"I couldn't justify us taking (Gore) with the first pick in the second (round) with the owner because of the knees," McCloughan said. "You just don't want to do that because you take a chance. The majority of the time you take a guy who's had durability issues over his career prior to the NFL, they're going to stick with him. I was just hoping he would last to the third round."

When Gore still was on the board at the top of the third round, the 49ers took the calculated risk no other NFL team dared to and grabbed Gore with the No. 65 overall selection.

"I was very excited he lasted until then," McCloughan said. "There was absolutely no hesitation. It was an easy pick. He was a wild card, and we had to take football players because they would probably play pretty early for us with the way the roster was looking."

It proved to be one of the best moves the Nolan/McCloughan regime has made in their two years together.

"I've got to credit Scot with that," Nolan said. "Scot was always big on him. Scot was confident that the information he had led him to believe that Frank was not only good on the field, but the kind of guy you want on your team."

Now, one season later, Gore is a guy any NFL team would want, and the 49ers got him for the relative bargain of a third-round pick.

"He's proving to everybody that they should have taken the chance with the way he's playing now for the Niners," Linehan said.

Niners Digest Top Stories