For the past two seasons, one of the big questions going into fantasy football drafts has been "Do you trust Frank Gore?". When Gore had his fantastic breakout season (1695 rush yds, 8 TDs) in 2006, Gore looked like a guy who would be a fantasy star for a long, long time. It hasn't worked out that way. When fantasy owners scrambled to get on the Gore bandwagon in 2007, injuries and a decaying Forty Niners team led Gore to a 1102 rush yd, 5 TD disappointment of a season. With fantasy owners wary in 2008, Gore performed even worse with only 1036 rushing yds and 6 TD.
Whether or not you like Gore as a fantasy option this season, the Forty Niners don't. They spent a 3rd round pick on Glen Coffee, a 6'0", 210 lb running back out of Alabama specifically to relieve Gore's workload. When I say "relieve Gore's workload" I also mean "replace him when needed".
It's interesting that Coffee isn't a small, fast, shifty kind of back. A Maurice Jones-Drew/Chris Johnson type would be a nice compliment to the bruising, injury-inducing style of Frank Gore. I could see how a back like that would have fantasy value alongside Gore. Coffee is the same type of runner though; a bruising, run-em-over, type of guy. In fact, at 6'0", 209 lb he's already bigger than Gore (5' 9", 217 lb) so if Coffee bulks up another ten pounds he'll be the "larger" option. The Niners don't trust Gore to handle 20-25 carries a game this season and neither should you.
That doesn't mean that Coffee will suddenly have a Matt Forte-type of season, but he should see regular, consistent work. San Francisco doesn't have a starting QB yet (though we should assume they'll find one eventually) and their WR corps consists of a bunch of retreads and an injured rookie so arrogant that the RAIDERS didn't want to draft him. When your passing offense is relying on a player that causes even Al Davis to say "Damn, that guy's messed up!" then you have serious problems.
The Niners should be running the ball a lot this season and Coffee will see a lot of playing time. Considering the odds of a Gore injury and the way the San Francisco offense will run this year, I like Coffee as a minor RB sleeper. I'll be keeping an eye on him in camp to see how he (and Gore) are developing.