San Francisco 49ers: Assembling a Niners All-21st Century 53-Man Roster
What if coach Jim Harbaugh could choose from any 49er that has worn the Red and Gold since the new millennium to fill out an All-21st Century 53-man roster for the upcoming season?
Or just for fun, anyway.
Which Niners would make the cut?
In case this has you thinking: "why not just make an all-time 49ers roster?", I have two things to say.
One, that's been done before—probably quite a few times. And although it would still be an exciting endeavor, we already know it would be top-loaded with 49er greats from the 80's and 90's.
Jerry Rice. Joe Montana. Steve Young to back up Montana (that's just not fair). Deion Sanders. Ronnie Lott. Charles Haley...you get the picture.
And two, with no disrespect meant toward the previously mentioned greats or any who came before them—I love giving the Niners players from the not-so-good years a small chunk of time in the spotlight.
So, in great detail, I present to you an all-time 49ers 53-man roster for players who have suited up in Red and Gold for any part of the 21st century.
For added fun, I threw in the best season (mainly from a statistical standpoint) for each of these players during the 21st century as well. Keep in mind, some players had better years but they occurred pre-2000.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Jeff Garcia (1999 - 2003)
Say what you want, Garcia always played his heart out and his 2000 season alone dubs him worthy of the starting QB gig on the All-21st Century squad.
Garcia's best season in Red and Gold:
2000 - 4,278 Yards, 31 TD, 10 INT, 97.6 QB Rating - 414 Yards Rushing, 4 TD
Alex Smith (2005 - Present)
Personally, I thought Smith was great in 2011. A year ago, though, he wouldn't have made this list.
In 2012, Smith could even jettison past Garcia with another deep playoff run filled with clutch performances.
Smith's best season in Red and Gold:
2011 - 3,144 Yards, 17 TD, 5 INT, 90.7 QB Rating
Shaun Hill (2006 - 2009)
Physically, there's little-to-nothing to be excited about with Hill. But in terms of managing a game and limiting mistakes, Harbaugh would squeeze this guy on the roster in favor of sifting through the Niners' QB busts of the 21st Century.
Just like Garcia, this dude always leaves it all on the field when he plays.
Hill's best season in Red and Gold:
2008 - 2,046 Yards, 13 TD, 8 INT, 87.9 QB Rating
The best single run in 49er history?
Frank Gore (2005 - Present)
Not only is Gore the franchise's all-time leading rusher, but he also broke the team's single-season rushing record in just his second year in the NFL.
Frank the Tank has overcome adversity and exceeded each and every one of our expectations throughout his time in SF.
Gore's best season in Red and Gold:
2006 - 1,695 Yards, 8 TD, 5.4 Yards Per Carry - 61 Rec., 485 Rec. Yards, 1 TD
Garrison Hearst (1997 - 2003)
The two-time comeback player of the year was a sensational talent whose immense amount of heart undoubtedly out-shined a career marred by injuries.
Hearst's best season in Red and Gold:
2001 - 1,206 Yards, 4 TD, 4.8 Yards Per Carry - 41 Rec., 347 Rec. Yards, 1 TD
Note: Hearst's top season was actually 1998, featuring a brilliant game-winning 96-yard TD scamper in overtime to beat the Jets (see video above).
Kevan Barlow (2001 - 2005)
I wasn't excited about adding Barlow as the No. 3 RB, and even considered Kendall Hunter for the fact that he would serve as a more effective complementary back.
But the 2003 version of Barlow was actually a promising one, and helped him steal the third spot in this backfield.
Barlow's best season in Red and Gold:
2003 - 1,024 Yards, 6 TD, 5.1 Yards Per Carry
Maurice Hicks (2003 - 2007)
Hicks never made a sizable contribution in the 49er backfield, but he was excellent on special teams, primarily in the return game.
Harbaugh would see value in adding Hicks to the mix, especially for insurance as a kick returner.
Hicks' best season in Red and Gold:
2006 - 1,428 Return yards, 25.1 Avg. Per Return - 16 Tackles (Special Teams)
Fred Beasley (1998 - 2005)
Beasley earned All-Pro honors twice as a Niner (2002 and 2003), and is a no-doubter here.
Bruce Miller and Moran Norris, however, should be deserving of honorable mention.
Beasley's best season (post-2000) in Red and Gold:
2000 - 147 Yards rushing, 233 Yards receiving, 6 total TD
Once upon a time, T.O. was a good problem to have.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Terrell Owens (1996 - 2003)
After T.O.'s most recent humiliating experience, it seems almost ridiculous to think he deserves the honor of making this roster, let alone occupying the top spot.
But the production and skill set once shined through without the endless antics accompanying them.
Just not for very long.
Owens' best season in Red and Gold:
Michael Crabtree (2009 - Present)
Even though most would agree Crabtree hasn't quite lived up to his lofty expectations, he's a solid fit as a No. 2 wideout on this roster.
Crabs put forth his best season as a Niner a year ago, and has a chance to finally fulfill his potential in the coming seasons.
Crabtree's best season in Red and Gold:
2011 - 874 Yards, 72 Rec., 4 TD
Arnaz Battle (2003 - 2009)
I absolutely loved how Battle played the game of football. With his fearless demeanor in mind, I think he's a great fit in the slot for this squad. He would also be a great fit on the special teams unit, as he was throughout his time in SF.
If not for injuries and a dysfunctional 49er offense, I'm left with little doubt that this sure-handed wideout would've put together multiple Pro Bowl-worthy seasons.
Battle's best season in Red and Gold:
2006 - 686 Yards, 58 Rec., 3 TD
Note: In that 2006 season, Battle was the only NFL receiver with 40 or more catches who did not have a single dropped pass all year.
Isaac Bruce (2008 - 2009)
The former member of "The Greatest Show On Turf" proved he still had something left in the tank after signing with the 49ers in 2008. Bruce put up solid numbers in a season where the play of the quarterbacks (Shaun Hill and J.T. O'Sullivan) was less than desirable.
Bruce's best season in Red and Gold:
2008 - 835 Yards, 61 Rec., 7 TD
J.J. Stokes (1995 - 2002)
Stokes' best seasons in San Fran came in '97 and '98 with Steve Young at the helm of the offense, but his '01 campaign was respectable enough to earn him a spot as a reserve in this receiving corps.
Truth be told, this roster would probably be better served having Randy Moss in this spot, but he can't be considered for an All-Century selection before playing a down for the Niners.
Stokes' best season in Red and Gold (2000 or later):
2001 - 585 Yards, 54 Rec., 7 TD
Ted Ginn Jr. (2010 - Present)
This speedster makes the squad for abilities in the return game (later featured on special teams page).
Ginn's best season in Red and Gold:
2011 - 1,266 Return Yards, 2 Return TD
Face it, this will never get old.
Vernon Davis (2006 - Present)
Absolutely no question that the No. 43 player for 2012 and 2012 NFC Divisional hero makes this list as the No. 1 TE.
Davis' best season in Red and Gold:
2009 - 965 Yards, 78 Rec., 13 TD
Note: You could say '11 was Davis' top season in SF, but in terms of production, his '09 campaign was by far the most valuable.
Eric Johnson (2001 - 2006)
The oft-injured tight end put forth an All-Century worthy campaign in 2004, and the former seventh-round pick would've made for an excellent receiving option opposite Davis if he was playing in that form.
Johnson's best season in Red and Gold:
2004- 825 Yards, 82 Rec., 2 TD
Delanie Walker (2006 - Present)
The extremely versatile Walker is worthy of a reserve spot on this team, don't you think?
Fun Fact: Walker returned a kick 101 yards for a TD in a Niners preseason game his rookie season. He's the only TE to ever accomplish that feat.
Walker's best season in Red and Gold:
2011 - 198 Yards, 19 Rec., 3 TD
I think Harbaugh would stick with Iupati at LG for the All-Century team.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Left Tackle: Joe Staley (2007 - Present)
Staley earned himself a Pro Bowl selection with his hard-nosed play and excellent blocking in space a season ago.
He also earned the nod as the starting left tackle on this list.
Left Guard: Mike Lupati (2010 - Present)
No reason to split up Staley and Lupati on the left side of the line. These two are going to show how special they are in '12, and would do so on this All-Century squad as well.
Center: Jeremy Newberry (1998 - 2006)
Simply put, Newberry was a nasty man. Harbaugh would love this former two-time Pro Bowl center.
Right Guard: Ray Brown (1996 - 2001)
Brown's Pro Bowl selection in '01 was his best season in SF and gets him the spot at right guard.
Right Tackle: Scott Gragg (2000-2004)
Nothing too great, but Gragg is a solid fit on the right side of the line.
Eric Heitmann, C/G (2002 - 2011)
Heitmann fought through multiple injuries to serve as an effective and versatile lineman in SF for nearly a decade.
Derrick Deese, OT (1992 - 2003)
The longtime Niner played at all five O-line positions throughout his impressive career, serving primarily as a left tackle.
Adam Snyder, G/T (2005 - 2011)
Snyder was a versatile and hard-nosed blocker during his time in San Fran and always displayed a team-first mentality for the youngsters to look up to.
Could you imagine Young together on a line with Justin Smith?
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Note: The 49ers have employed various defensive schemes throughout the 21st century, but will be sticking with current defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's 3-4 for the purpose of this article. However, with a veteran crew this versatile, the options would be unlimited for Fangio and the defense. And we know he would take advantage.
Justin Smith, DE (2008 - Present)
In 2011, Smith was voted to the Associated Press All-Pro team at two different positions. He doesn't typically catch your attention with statistical production, but he's arguably the most valuable 49er defender of this century.
Of course, the guy on the next slide may be deserving of that honor as well.
Smith's best season in Red and Gold:
2011 - 58 Tackles, 7.5 Sacks, 3 Forced Fumbles
Andre Carter, DE (2001 - 2005)
The 2002 version of Carter would have a field day opposite Smith and the double teams he is capable of drawing.
Carter's best season in Red and Gold:
2002 - 54 Tackles, 12.5 Sacks, 3 Forced Fumbles
Bryant Young, NT/DT (1994 - 2007)
Steve wasn't the only Young that made a name for himself in San Francisco. Bryant Young played every down of his NFL career in Red and Gold and is a no-brainer to make this squad.
Young's best season in Red and Gold:
1996 - 75 Tackles, 11.5 Sacks
Dana Stubblefield, NT/DT (1993 - 1997, 2001 - 2002)
Stubblefield's second stint in SF was nowhere near as memorable as his first (Defensive Rookie of the Year in '93 and Defensive Player of the Year in '96), but his two-year stretch from '01 to '02 was good enough for this squad.
Fangio would have a field day with this type of depth.
Stubblefield's best season in Red and Gold (21st Century):
2001 - 33 Tackles, 4 Sacks
John Engelberger, DE (2000 - 2004)
The former second-round pick in 2000 is a solid reserve option.
Engelberger's best season in Red and Gold:
2004 - 44 Tackles, 6 Sacks
Isaac Sopoaga, NT/DT (2004 - Present)
Sopoaga has been a reliable option since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2004 NFL draft and was a force at nose tackle in 2011.
Sopoaga's best season in Red and Gold:
2011 - 31 Tackles, 1 Fumble Recovery
These two beat out some pretty solid competition for the starting All-Century positions.
Julian Peterson, OLB (2000 - 2005)
Peterson made back-to-back All-Pro squads in 2002 and 2003 with 94 tackles in each season. The former Niners first-round pick possessed a freakish blend of size and speed, and when in his prime, Peterson would've been a force on the outside playing with the elite set of linebackers the 49ers now have.
Peterson's best season in Red and Gold:
2003 -94 Tackles, 7 Sacks, 3 FF, 2 INT
Patrick Willis, ILB (2007 - Present)
When all is said and done, No. 52 will be making more All-Century squads than this one.
It seems like he's been doing this forever, but it's easy to forget that the five-time All-Pro (first team four times) is only 27 years old.
Willis' best season in Red and Gold:
2009 - 152 Tackles, 4 Sacks, 3 FF, 3 INT (one for TD)
Note: It's nearly impossible to say one single season was Willis' best. He's been nearly perfect in each of them.
NaVorro Bowman, ILB (2010 - Present)
Bowman broke out in his sophomore season with a Willis-like performance that was rewarded with AP First Team All-Pro honors.
No reason to split up what could very well end up being the most dynamic duo of inside linebackers the NFL has ever seen.
Bowman's best season in Red and Gold:
2011 - 143 Tackles, 2 Sacks, 3 FR
Ahmad Brooks, OLB (2008 - Present)
A year from now, the young phenom Aldon Smith probably claims this spot. But until he becomes a full time starter, it's hard to say he's earned it.
Parys Haralson was in the running as well, but Brooks takes it after an impressive 2011 campaign in which he made some considerable strides in his all around game.
Brooks' best season in Red and Gold:
2011 - 50 Tackles, 7 Sacks, 1 FF
Derek Smith, ILB (2001 - 2007)
With five straight 100-tackle seasons from 2001 to 2005, Smith has undoubtedly earned the role as a reserve on this roster.
Smith's best season in Red and Gold:
2003 - 114 Tackles, 3.5 Sacks, 2 FF, 1 FR
Jeff Ulbrich, ILB (2000 - 2009)
Ulbrich's career was often hindered by injuries, but he undoubtedly made the 49er defense a stronger unit for the better part of a decade.
Ulbrich's best season in Red and Gold:
2004 - 92 Tackles, 1 Sack, 1 INT
Aldon Smith, OLB (2011 - Present)
You'd better believe Smith would be serving as one heck of a situational pass rusher for this unstoppable defense.
Smith's best (and only) season in Red and Gold:
2011 - 37 Tackles, 14 Sacks, 2 FF
Parys Haralson, OLB (2006 - Present)
Haralson makes it by a hair and will effectively serve a depth and special teams role on the All-Century squad.
Haralson's best season in Red and Gold:
2008 - 39 Tackles, 8 Sacks, 1 FR
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Carlos Rogers, CB (2011 - Present)
The fact that Rogers hasn't been around long is irrelevant here; he was generally amazing throughout the 2011 season and this selection was made to reflect that.
Rogers' best (and only) season in Red and Gold:
2011 - 43 Tackles, 6 INT, 18 Passes Defensed
Walt Harris, CB (2006 - 2010)
Harris was equally as amazing in his first campaign with the Niners in 2006. He was solid for another two seasons as well, before tearing an ACL in the offseason of 2009.
Harris' best season in Red and Gold:
2006 - 63 Tackles, 8 INT, 4 FF, 1 TD
Dashon Goldson, FS (2007 - Present)
The hard-hitting safety put forth his best performance to date in 2011 and wound up being selected to the Pro Bowl.
Was Goldson's improved play motivated by the search for a big contract, or was it more the tutelage of a rock-solid 49ers coaching staff?
Either way, his performance for the '11 season allows him to jump into the starting spot at free safety for the All-Century squad.
Goldson's best season in Red and Gold:
2011 - 67 Tackles, 6 INT, 9 PD
Tony Parrish, SS (2002 - 2006)
Parrish racked up 16 INT's in his firsts two seasons with the Niners, and earned All-Pro honors with 9 of those picks coming in '03.
This guy was fun to watch.
Parrish's best season in Red and Gold:
2003 - 78 Tackles, 9 INT, 18 PD
Ahmed Plummer, CB (2000 - 2005)
Plummer's career was short-lived due to injuries that marred his final two seasons in San Fran and forced him to retire in '06. But not before the superb talent put forth a couple of really solid campaigns with the Niners.
Plummer's best season in Red and Gold:
2001 - 64 Tackles, 7 INT, 18 PD
Nate Clements, CB (2007 - 2010)
I know, adding Clements to the roster was not easy. However, despite not living up to the massive 8-year contract San Fran sent his way in free agency, he was a solid No.1 option at times.
Clements' best season in Red and Gold:
2007 - 92 Tackles, 4 INT, 3 FF
Jason Webster, CB (2000 - 2003)
Like Plummer, injuries derailed what looked to be a promising career for Webster.
He remained durable for his first three NFL seasons, however, and the undersized corner could battle it out with Plummer and Clements as a solid No. 3 option for this squad.
Webster's best season in Red and Gold:
2002 - 85 Tackles, 1 INT, 1 TD
Shawntae Spencer, CB (2004 - 2011)
The former Niner started 72 of a possible 98 games in San Francisco, and was a solid contributor, especially early on.
Spencer's best season in Red and Gold:
2005 - 83 Tackles, 4 INT, 19 PD
Donte Whitner, SS (2011 - Present)
Whitner was solid enough a year ago to crack the roster as a reserve. We should all be thrilled to see more of this hard-hitting leader in SF.
Whitner's best (and only) season in Red and Gold:
2011 - 62 Tackles, 2 INT, 3 FR
Zack Bronson, FS (1997 - 2003)
Another promising career derailed by injuries, Bronson peaked in '01 with some truly amazing play in the defensive backfield.
Bronson's best season in Red and Gold:
2001 - 63 Tackles, 7 INT, 2 TD
Andy Lee would be an All-21st Century punter for any squad.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Andy Lee (2004 - Present)
The Niners just signed the league's best punter to a six-year extension, basically ensuring that the three-time All-Pro is a Niner for life.
Lee's best season in Red and Gold:
2011 - 78 Punts, 50.9 AVG, 28 Punts Inside 20-Yard Line
David Akers (2011 - Present)
A season ago—Akers' first in SF—the six-time All-Pro broke the NFL record for most points by a kicker (166) and had six games in which he kicked four or more field goals.
Akers best (and only) season in Red and Gold:
2011 - 44/52 on Field Goals, 84.9%, made nine FG's of 50 yards or more.
Brian Jennings (2000 - Present)
You may not think he does much, but the longtime Niners' long snapper has earned two Pro Bowl selections as a result of mastering his unique craft.
He's also the longest tenured 49er on the team's current roster.
The previously mentioned WR Ginn Jr. will handle both kicks and punts, with the also previously mentioned RB Hicks backing him up.
Ian Walton/Getty Images
Well, if you've made it this far and happened to tally up the players as well, you'll notice I'm one short.
Who did I leave off this All-21st Century squad that you felt was deserving of a selection?
Ray McDonald (DE)? Michael Lewis (SS)? Moran Norris (FB)?
Whoever he may be, let him now serve as the 53rd and final member.
And there you have it, your San Francisco 49ers All-21st Century 53-man roster.
I hope it was as entertaining for you to read as it was for me to assemble!
Add me on Twitter: @B_Burnett49