One of the most storied franchises in NFL history, there is no question the San Francisco 49ers had some of the game’s greatest players. But what happens when the past meets the present? I take a look back to recognize the greatest 49ers of all-time at each position as I create the 49ers all-time team. See who made the cut and who was left out…
Quarterback: Joe Montana
Analysis: He wasn’t given the nickname Joe Cool for nothing. Arguably the greatest quarterback to ever lace them up, Montana would go on to win four Super Bowls while being named the Super Bowl MVP three times with the San Francisco 49ers. A two-time NFL MVP winner while being named to the Pro Bowl eight times, this third-round pick from Notre Dame proved his doubters wrong while thriving under Bill Walsh’s west coast offense.
In 13 seasons in San Francisco, Montana would finish his 49ers career completing 63.7 percent of his passes for 35,124 passing yards, 244 touchdowns and 123 interceptions. His No. 16 jersey has since been retired by the team.
Running Back: Frank Gore
Analysis: The stats don’t lie which is why The Inconvenient Truth tops the list as he is the 49ers all-time leading rusher in both yards and touchdowns. A five-time Pro Bowl selection while leading the NFC in rushing in 2006, Gore was the heart and soul of the 49ers offense during his tenure with the team. No one even comes close.
In 10 seasons in San Francisco, Gore would rack up 11,073 rushing yards (4.53 average) and 64 touchdowns.
Fullback: Tom Rathman
Analysis: This was a tough call between Rathman and two-time Pro Bowl FB Fred Beasley but in the end, Rathman wins out due to his versatility. In 1989, Rathman led all NFL running backs with 73 receptions for 616 yards while paving the way for RB Roger Craig. A two-time Super Bowl champion, Rathman currently serves as the team’s running back’s coach.
Wide Receiver: Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens
Analysis: This was easy for me as Rice is the greatest football player ever. A three-time Super Bowl champion including a one-time Super Bowl MVP winner, Rice shined brightest on the game’s biggest stage. A 13-time Pro Bowl selection while being named a first-team All-Pro 10 times, it’s no wonder Rice was voted as the Greatest Football Player of All-Time on NFL Network’s Top 100 Players.
Rice remains the gold standard among wide receivers as he is currently the all-time leader in receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895), and touchdowns (208). His No. 80 jersey has since been retired by the team.
As for TO, he makes the list simply due this dominance on the field. He may have been a diva off the field but no one can question his on-field production. A six-time Pro Bowl selection while being named a first-team All-Pro five times, TO was as good as any wide receiver during his career.
A big, physical and speedy wide receiver with the skill set to be a home-run threat every time he touched the ball, no wide receiver comes close to what TO could do aside from the very underrated WR John Taylor. Not to mention, TO will be in 49ers’ history forever with his miraculous Catch II, it’s a shame that this wide receiver is not getting the publicity he deserves as he was snubbed in this year’s Hall of Fame voting.
TO led the NFL in receiving touchdowns three times during his career while finishing his career ranked No. 2 all-time in receiving yards (15,934), No. 3 in receiving touchdowns (153) and No. 6 in receptions (1,078).
Tight End: Vernon Davis
Analysis: Davis is the 49ers all-time leader in touchdown receptions by a tight-end which puts him at the top of the list. A two-time Pro Bowl selection while famously recording the Catch III, it’s Davis who beats out four-time Pro Bowl player and fan favorite TE Brent Jones.
During his time in San Francisco, Davis has recorded 441 catches for 5,640 yards and 55 touchdowns.
Offensive Tackle: Bob St. Clair, Joe Staley
Analysis: Nicknamed the Geek, St. Clair would be one of the lone bright spots for the 49ers from 1953-1963. One of the best offensive tackles during his playing days as St. Clair would be named a nine-time All-Pro selection, he would then be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990 while having his No. 79 jersey retired by the team.
A converted tight-end, Staley was one of two first-round draft picks by the 49ers back in 2007. An athletically gifted athlete with the lateral quickness to keep premier pass-rushers at bay, Staley has been a rock along the team’s left side while providing stability in the run game.
In nine seasons in San Francisco, Staley has been named to the Pro Bowl five times while being named a second-team All-Pro in three of those seasons.
Offensive Guard: Randy Cross, Larry Allen
Analysis: Highly regarded as one of the premier offensive lineman during his time, G/C Randy Cross was a rock along the 49ers offensive line while being versatile enough to juggle both center and guard responsibilities. From making adjustments on the line pre-snap to being a road-mauler in the run game, Cross could do it all and did it at the highest level as he was named a first-team All-Pro three times during the team’s glory days.
LG Larry Allen may have only played for the 49ers for two seasons but that didn’t stop him from continuing to be the All-Pro player that made him one of the best interior offensive lineman to ever play the game.
An 11-time Pro Bowl player while being named a first-team All-Pro seven times, Allen would go on to finish his career as one of the best. A Hall of Fame selection in 2013, Allen proved why he was one of the best guards to ever play the game, as his sheer strength alone could move anyone off their spot.
Center: Jesse Sapolu
Analysis: A four-time Super Bowl champion and two-time All-Pro, Sapolu would quickly become a fan favorite among the Forever Faithful during the team’s glory days. He is one of only six players in franchise history to earn four Super Bowl rings, and the only one in franchise history to earn his last one in 1994.
Defensive End: Justin Smith, Fred Dean
Analysis: On Mar. 1, 2008, the San Francisco 49ers signed away a good player from the Cincinnati Bengals. That ‘good player’ turned out to be a ‘great player’ in San Francisco as DE Justin Smith also known as The Cowboy turned in five consecutive Pro Bowl seasons spanning from 2009-2013 while being named a first-team All-Pro in three of those years.
A true beast down in the trenches, Smith consistently commanded double-teams while playing defensive-end in the 49ers 3-4 scheme. Whether stuffing the run or attacking the quarterback, Smith did it all and was arguably the game’s best defensive player in 2011.
In seven seasons in San Francisco, the Cowboy would record 414 tackles, 43.5 sacks, and 10 forced fumbles.
Then we have Hall of Fame inductee DE Fred Dean. One of the best in-season trades in NFL history as he came from the San Diego Chargers, Dean would play for the 49ers from 1981-1985 while being named to two Pro Bowls and the 1981 UPI NFC Defensive Player of the Year.
Dean would lead the NFC in sacks in 1983 as he racked up a career-high 17 including six in one game against the Saints. A two-time Super Bowl champion, Dean was highly regarded as one of the best pass-rushers during his playing days and was an integral part of the team winning two Super Bowls.
Defensive Tackle: Leo Nomellini, Bryant Young
Analysis: Nicknamed The Lion, DT Leo Nomellini was a man among boys during his tenure with the 49ers. The 49ers first ever draft choice back in 1950, the selection proved to be the right one, as The Lion would have a Hall of Fame career. A 10-time Pro Bowl selection and nine time All-Pro player, Nomellini would eventually have his No. 73 retired by the 49ers.
A team captain who led by example rather than run his mouth, the player known as B.Y. would go on to have a nice 14-year career in San Francisco. A four-time Pro Bowl selection and one-time All-Pro in 1996, BY was as consistent as any 49ers defensive player during his career. From being named the 1994 Defensive Rookie of the Year to being the 1999 Comeback Player of the Year, BY always played at a high-level while creating havoc in the backfield.
Young finished his career with 89.5 sacks which ranks No. 4 all-time for all defensive tackles as only DT Warren Sapp, DT John Randle, and DT Trevor Pryce have more. His No. 97 has not been worn since and will likely be retired at some point in the near future.
Outside Linebacker: Charles Haley, Dave Wilcox
Analysis: Originally a fourth-round pick (No. 96) of the 1986 NFL Draft by the 49ers, Haley would go on to have a Hall of Fame career which included five Pro Bowl berths and being named the UPI NFC Defensive Player of the Year twice (1990, 1994).
Haley quickly became one of the most feared pass-rushers in NFL history as he paced all rookies with a 12-sack season. However, it was his off-field diva behavior which led to his departure from the 49ers, as they traded away one of their most prized assets to the Dallas Cowboys.
In seven seasons in San Francisco, Haley recorded 66.5 sacks while being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015. Haley is the only player in NFL history to win five Super Bowls (2 w/49ers and 3 w/Cowboys).
With Haley on one side, that leaves Hall of Fame OLB Dave Wilcox on the other. The player known as The Intimidator for his aggressive play, it’s Wilcox who garners the other outside linebacker spot. An athlete who rarely gave tight-ends a free release off the line of scrimmage, Wilcox was one of the best in both coverage and setting the edge on the outside.
In 11 seasons in San Francisco, Wilcox would accumulate seven Pro Bowl berths including two first-team All-Pro selections. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000, Wilcox
Inside Linebacker: Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman
Analysis: Arguably the team’s best linebacker to ever play for the 49ers, ILB Patrick Willis was head and shoulders above the rest. From his sideline-to-sideline presence to covering tight-ends in space, Willis proved why he was the absolute best at his position.
Willis had a stellar career for the 49ers, as he was named the 2007 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year while being named a first-team All Pro five-times. Often compared to future Hall of Fame LB Ray Lewis, Willis was as good as it gets as he played at the highest level for during his tenure with the team.
In 8 seasons in San Francisco, Willis would rack up 950 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 16 forced fumbles, and 8 interceptions.
Not to be outdone, however, was his partner in crime as ILB NaVorro Bowman just as easily makes this list. A four-time first-team All-Pro while leading the NFL in tackles in 2015, Bowman continues to be the heart and soul of the 49ers defense. A physically gifted athlete with the speed to match, makes Bowman a no-brainer selection.
In five seasons, Bowman has recorded 636 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, and 3 interceptions.
Cornerback: Deion Sanders, Jimmy Johnson
Analysis: Arguably the greatest cover corner to ever play the game, CB Deion Sanders was by far the missing piece to the 49ers Super Bowl puzzle in 1994. A flamboyant cornerback with the ballhawking skills to match, the player known as Primetime was in full effect in San Francisco, as he had his best season as a pro recording 35 tackles, 6 interceptions (3 returned for TDs), NFL-best 303 return yards and a career-high 14 pass break-ups.
In Sanders lone season in San Francisco he made the most of the opportunity as he was then named the 1994 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year while guiding the team to a Super Bowl victory, becoming the first team in NFL history to win five Super Bowls. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
While Sanders locked down one side, it was CB Jimmy Johnson who held his own on the other island for the 49ers for 16 years in San Francisco. Originally the No. 6 overall selection in the 1961 NFL Draft, Johnson was a staple in the 49ers secondary as he would be named as a four-time first-team All-Pro while having his No. 37 jersey retired by the team. Johnson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994 while finishing his career with 47 interceptions.
Safety: Ronnie Lott, Tim McDonald
Analysis: The greatest defensive back to ever play the game, the NFL may never see another DB Ronnie Lott. A do it all player who can line up in the slot, play the box or centerfield, Lott was the most versatile player during his playing days.
Originally a first-round pick (No. 8) of the 1981 NFL Draft, Lott proved his worth ever since as this four-time Super Bowl champion would have a Hall of Fame career. In 10 seasons in San Francisco, Lott would rack up 51 interceptions, 5.5 sacks, and 5 touchdowns. An eight-time first-team All-Pro, Lott was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000 while later having his No. 42 jersey retired by the team.
One of the smartest football players to ever patrol the 49ers secondary, it was SS Tim McDonald who quickly became a household name. A free-agent signing from the St.Louis/Phoenix Cardinals back in 1993, McDonald was a rock the team could lean on when times were tough.
A sure-tackler in open-space with the instincts and smarts to read the quarterback, McDonald would be recognized as one of the best as he was named a six-time Pro Bowl player and five-time second-team All-Pro. McDonald would play for the 49ers for seven seasons and recorded 544 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 20 interceptions (3 returned for TDs), and 71 pass break-ups.
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