The 10 Best Draft Picks in San Francisco 49ers History

Joseph AkeleyAnalyst IApril 4, 2013

The 10 Best Draft Picks in San Francisco 49ers History

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    Thanks to great success in the NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers have one of the richest histories in pro sports. 

    In a span of six drafts, the Niners selected three players who would become arguably the greatest players ever at their respective positions. They helped the 49ers win five Super Bowls in a 14-year stretch. 

    Naturally, those three players are found at the top of this list, but deciding the rest was no easy task.

    When compiling this list, I automatically eliminated players who did/have not played at least four seasons for the Niners.

    This means Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman and Colin Kaepernick were not considered. 

    The order is based mainly on stats and effect on the field. To break up ties, playoff success was weighed into the equation.

    Also, considering some of these players retired well before I was born, I relied heavily on Pro-Football-Reference.com's career approximated value

    Read on for a trip down memory lane, 49ers style. 

Honorable Mentions

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    WR Terrell Owens, Third Round, 89th Pick (1996)

    The much-maligned wide receiver is second all time in receiving yards and third all time in touchdown catches. On stats alone, he belongs in the top five of this list, but he just misses the cut because of his known divisiveness as a teammate. 

     

    RB Frank Gore, Third Round, 65th Pick (2005)

    San Francisco's all-time leader in rushing yards, Frank Gore has been an instrumental piece to the 49ers' return to prominence. He'd need a couple more productive seasons and more playoff success to crack the top 10.

     

    RB/KR Hugh McElhenny, First Round, Ninth Pick (1952)

    The five-time Pro Bowler had more than 11,000 all-purpose yards. In his rookie season, he had 1,731 all-purpose yards in a 12-game season. Hugh McElhenny and fullback Joe Perry (who was signed by the 49ers outside of the draft) were selected to the 1950s All-Decade Team. 

     

    QB John Brodie, First Round, Third Pick (1957)

    John Brodie was a prolific passer in the late '50s and '60s. His career approximated value is the sixth highest in 49ers history.

     

    OG Randy Cross, Second Round, 42nd Pick (1976)

    Randy Cross played some center in his career, but he won both of his Super Bowls with 49ers as the starting right guard. He was selected to three Pro Bowls.

10. Dave Wilcox, LB

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    Third Round, 29th Pick (1964)

    Dave Wilcox is the first of three 49ers Hall of Famers on this list that played long before I was born.

    His career approximated value is 112, 10th all time in 49ers history. 

    He was a seven-time Pro Bowler and a two-time First-Team All-Pro.

9. Charles Haley, DE/LB

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    Fourth Round, 96th Pick (1986)

    Charles Haley is most commonly known for being a five-time Super Bowl champ (two with San Francisco, three with Dallas), which helped his case for making this list. 

    The feared pass-rusher totaled 96.5 sacks between 1986 and 1995. 

    He was a five-time Pro Bowler and a two-time First-Team All-Pro. 

    Haley is second all time in sacks in 49ers history, but he may not be for long at the rate Aldon Smith is accumulating sacks. 

8. Roger Craig, RB/FB

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    Second Round, 49th Pick (1983)

    Roger Craig won three Super Bowls in San Francisco as a key part of the 49ers backfield.

    Twice he totaled more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage in a single season, including his 1988 campaign for which he was awarded AP Offensive Player of the Year. 

    In 1985, Craig led the league with 92 receptions that went for 1,016 yards. 

    I could go on and on, which is the reason why I'm stunned he hasn't been selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


7. Bryant Young, DT

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    First Round, Seventh Pick (1994)

    San Francisco's all-time leader in sacks, Bryant Young was one the most feared interior pass-rushers of his era. 

    He was a key contributor to the 49ers' last Super Bowl team in his rookie season, but his career really took off in 1996 when he had 11.5 sacks and was named First-Team All-Pro.

    Young, a four-time Pro Bowler, was selected to the 1990s All-Decade Team.

6. Leo Nomellini, DT, T

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    First Round, 11th Pick (1950)

    Leo Nomellini was a Pro Bowler on the offensive line and the defensive line, though he earned most of his accolades on defense.

    A 10-time Pro Bowler, Nomellini was selected to the 1950s All-Decade Team.

    He ranks fourth in career approximated value in 49ers history.

5. Jimmy Johnson, CB

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    First Round, Sixth Pick (1961)

    Jimmy Johnson was named First-Team All-Pro four straight seasons from 1969 to 1972. 

    He was also selected to the 1970s All-Decade First Team.

    Johnson has the second-best career approximated value in 49ers history. 

    If he had played on another team, he'd likely be closer to the top spot on a list like this. 

4. Patrick Willis

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    First Round, 11th Pick (2007)

    When Patrick Willis retires, he may be known as the greatest inside linebacker of all time. 

    He's made the Pro Bowl in each of his first six seasons, and he already ranks 20th in career approximated value in 49ers history. 

    The 28-year-old has already racked up 819 total tackles, an average of 137 tackles per season.

    Despite his incredible accolades, Willis needs several years more of Pro Bowl-caliber stats to even get close to the top three on this list. 

3. Ronnie Lott, S/CB

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    First Round, Eighth Pick, (1981)

    Often considered the greatest safety of all time, Ronnie Lott was the leader of the secondary through San Francisco's glory years.

    The 49ers won four Super Bowls with Lott, who played cornerback for the first two titles and safety for the last two.

    Lott is San Francisco's all-time leader in interceptions. He's also sixth all time in career interceptions in NFL history. 

    We'll never know how many receivers purposely stopped going over the middle to avoid one of Lott's bone-crushing hits. 

    What's not up for debate is Lott's place in history; he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

2. Jerry Rice, WR

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    First Round, 16th Pick (1985)

    Let the arguing begin.

    I'm sure several of you are wondering how the greatest receiver, and arguably the greatest player, of all time is No. 2 on this list. 

    Jerry Rice has the most receiving yards and touchdowns in NFL history. He won three Super Bowls, earning MVP honors in 1988 against the Cincinnati Bengals

    He was named AP Offensive Player of the Year twice (1987, 1993), and, of course, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

    Who could possibly top him? I think you know who it is.

1. Joe Montana, QB

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    Third Round, 82nd Pick (1979)

    Joe Montana, a two-time AP MVP and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is unquestionably the greatest quarterback of his era, and arguably the greatest signal-caller of all time. 

    Choosing between Rice and him wasn't easy, but here's how I came to that conclusion:

    1. Montana won four Super Bowls, whereas Rice won three.
    2. Montana was instrumental in turning the 49ers franchise around. By the time Rice was drafted by San Francisco, Montana had already led the Niners to two Super Bowls.
    3. When picking between the best quarterback and the best receiver on an era, I'm almost always going to give the edge to the quarterback because his position has a bigger effect on the game. 

    Montana also has three Super Bowl MVPs, which is two more than Rice was awarded, although you could argue Rice deserved one for each of his three championships.

    And to think 81 players were picked before Montana in the 1979 draft...

     

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