Alex Smith & the 10 Most Disappointing San Francisco 49ers in Franchise History
Who are the biggest disappointments in San Francisco 49ers history?
The main criteria for listing the 49ers' top 10 biggest disappointments are based on expectations.
There are generally three key factors I am using to rank my list. Obviously, poor play is the most important.
Secondly, if a player was a first-round draft pick and did not produce, that was a big consideration. If someone was a lower draft pick, expectations need to be tempered, in comparison to a Round 1 selection.
The third factor I considered were big money free agents. If the 49ers spent a lot of money on a player and he did not measure up, that also qualifies him for inclusion on our list.
Enjoy this list for what it is: a ranking of the biggest disappointments and most infamous 49ers ever.
Our Dishonorable Mention list includes five players: J.J. Stokes, Kwame Harris, Kentwan Balmer, Mike Rumph and Antonio Langham were considered for the bottom 10, but just made it above the cut line.
The San Francisco 49ers made J.J. Stokes their No. 1 draft pick in 1995. They traded up to get him, much like they did to get Jerry Rice in 1985. Unfortunately, Stokes did not turn out anywhere near the player that Rice was.
Stokes did not have good speed or quickness and had trouble getting open against a man-to-man defense. I was very surprised when the 49ers traded up to get Stokes. At UCLA, he had the same trouble getting open against tough one-on-one defenders.
In Stokes' eight years with the 49ers, he caught 327 passes for 4,139 yards and 30 touchdowns. These may seem like solid numbers, but when you consider it's only 41 catches per year, for 517 yards and less than 4 TD's a year, you can see they are quite pedestrian. These do not justify trading up and drafting Stokes with the 10th overall pick.
Kwame Harris, the big offensive tackle from Stanford, makes our Dishonorable Mention list based on his first-round draft status and failure to develop. Harris was selected in 2003 with the No. 26 overall pick.
In his five years with the 49ers, he was often criticized for his inability to stop opposing pass rushers and a propensity for committing false-start and holding penalties. Harris also seemed to lack the aggressiveness needed to play the offensive tackle position.
Kentwan Balmer makes our list. He was an underproducing defensive lineman, selected 29th overall in the 2008 NFL draft. Balmer basically quit on the 49ers and head coach Mike Singletary just before the onset of the 2010 season. He was traded to Seattle for a sixth-round draft pick.
Balmer made only 11 solo tackles and had no sacks in his two seasons with the 49ers. One of the worst comments you can make about any player is that he was not a hard worker, and Balmer's work ethic was frequently questioned by his coaches and teammates.
Mike Rumph was once considered an heir apparent to Ronnie Lott. The 49ers drafted him in the first round of the 2002 draft with the 27th overall pick. They expected him to be a big, tough defensive back who could lay the lumber on a receiver.
Truth be told, Rumph was a good tackler and fairly good against the run. Unfortunately, he just couldn't cover anyone. The 49ers tried him at corner and the safety positions, but Rumph was a liability in coverage, no matter where the Niners put him.
Rumph also had injury troubles in his four years with the 49ers. Out of a potential 64 games, Rumph played only 43 of them. In those games, he had only three interceptions.
Antonio Langham was a free agent acquisition by the 49ers in 1998. They signed him to a five-year, $17 million contract, which included a $3.5 million bonus. Langham had played well for the Browns and Ravens, but for some reason was a bust in his one season with the 49ers.
Langham stayed in San Francisco for just the one season and was left unprotected by the 49ers in the 1999 expansion draft. Lucky for the 49ers, the Cleveland Browns selected Langham, which saved the 49ers a boatload of money.
Any one of these five players could have made the list as the top 10 most disappointing 49ers in franchise history. The amazing thing is that there are 10 players who are worse.
10) Lawrence Phillips
No list of 49er players who will go down in infamy could be complete without Lawrence Phillips.
Phillips was the sixth overall pick of the St. Louis Rams in the 1996 draft. He had a stellar college career at Nebraska and was expected to continue running wild in the NFL. Unfortunately for Phillips, he did not run wild, he ran amok and was frequently in trouble.
The 49ers signed Phillips in 1999, after he sat out the entire 1998 season. They hoped he could bring some life to their running game. They were wrong.
In eight games with the 49ers, Phillips carried the ball 30 times for 144 yards, a very respectable 4.8 yards per carry. The personality conflicts and issues were still there, and one fateful play resulted in the ultimate end to the career of two players.
Phillips was charged with blitz pickup on a play in a game against the Arizona Cardinals. When Aeneas Williams came on the blitz, Phillips completely missed his assignment and Williams had an open shot on a defenseless Steve Young.
Williams blind sided Young at full speed and knocked him senseless. The severe concussion incurred by Young forced him into retirement. Phillips was released a short time later and he never played in the NFL again.
Since his retirement, Phillips has had serious problems with the law and is now in jail. He is a very troubled man with a bad propensity for violence.
9) Jonas Jennings
Mike Nolan's first big free agent move as the head personnel man and coach of the 49ers was the signing of Jonas Jennings. He signed a seven year deal for $36 million to join the 49ers in 2005.
Jennings had played well for the Buffalo Bills and Nolan wanted him to bolster the offensive line for San Francisco.
In four seasons with the 49ers, Jennings played in only 23 out of a possible 64 games. He was constantly injured and his time in San Francisco was largely spent on the sidelines.
He was out of football after the 2008 season. Jennings was a huge waste of money for the 49ers.
8) Todd Kelly
The San Francisco 49ers drafted Todd Kelly with the 27th pick in the 1993 draft. Kelly played as a defensive end in college at Tennessee, and the 49ers moved him to an outside linebacker position.
The 49ers felt Kelly was undersized to be a defensive end and had the speed to play as a pass rushing linebacker. Unfortunately, the transformation never really materialized. Kelly made very little impact for the 49ers and played only two years in San Francisco.
In 25 games for the Niners, Kelly had 22 tackles, two assists and 4.5 sacks. By 1995, he was gone from the team and off to the Bengals, where he also made little or no impact.
7) Reggie McGrew
Reggie McGrew came to San Francisco after a very strong collegiate career at the University of Florida. He was a first-round pick in 1999, the 24th overall selection.
The one concern about McGrew was his health and that turned off many teams on draft day. Unfortunately, the 49ers gambled on him and lost.
McGrew suffered from balky knees and rarely got on the field for the 49ers. He did not play at all in 1999 and although he appeared in 22 of a possible 32 games for the Niners in 2000 and 2001, he rarely saw any meaningful action.
McGrew accumulated nine solo tackles, including one sack in his two seasons for the 49ers. He finished out his career playing just two games for the Falcons in 2002 and was out of football.
6) Gabe Wilkins
Gabe Wilkins played his best football for the Green Bay Packers from 1994-97. The 49ers signed him as a free agent following the 1997 season.
Green Bay must have known something, as they let Wilkins go and refused to offer him the big money that the 49ers did. Wilkins was a huge man at 6'5" and 304 pounds. Perhaps the Packers realized that his knees could not handle all of that weight.
The 49ers were hoping that he could provide a strong inside presence for their defense. Instead, they got a man who spent more time in the trainers' room than on the field.
Wilkins played two seasons in San Francisco, but only 20 out of a possible 32 games. He amassed 30 solo tackles, with six assists and only one sack. With a contract of roughly $4 million per year, the Niners paid Wilkins well over $100,000 per tackle.
Wilkins had injury issues with his knees and seemed to lose his zeal for the game once he got the big money. He was a costly mistake by the 49ers.
5) Alex Smith
Are you amazed that I have ranked Alex Smith No. 5 and not No. 1 or 2?
Well, that's because, amazingly, there are four other players who have been bigger disappointments to the 49er faithful.
Smith is also still playing and has a chance to turn his career around. Saddled by numerous offensive coordinators and two head coaches who knew nothing about offense, Smith was a victim of the intensely high expectations placed on him.
As a No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2005 draft, the expectations for him to lead the 49ers back into Super Bowl contention were enormous. He simply did not have the ability, the coaching, or the personnel around him to do that.
In five seasons with the 49ers, Smith has an overall record of 19-31 in the 50 games he has started. Smith has completed 864 passes in 1,514 attempts, a career 57.1 percentage. He has thrown 51 touchdowns against 53 interceptions.
The biggest issues have been the turnovers at the most critical times, which cost the 49ers games and also the inability to meet the expectation thrust upon him as a No. 1 overall pick.
As you can see from these numbers, Smith has not been all bad. Mediocre is the best description, and since his story has not yet been completed, I cannot put him at the top of this list. He still has a chance to lead the 49ers and turn his career around.
By the end of the 2010 season, the 49ers and their fans were running him out of town and Smith seemed completely ready to move on. In another amazing turn of events, it now seems like a foregone conclusion that Smith will be back to lead the 49ers in 2011.
He and Jim Harbaugh seem to have built a good relationship and Harbaugh insists that Smith can be a good quarterback for the 49ers. In addition, Harbaugh's options are somewhat limited due to the lockout, so in reality, Smith is most likely the best player available to Harbaugh at this point.
Smith has led voluntary workouts for the team and shown excellent leadership in trying to get everyone to attend. He has taken it upon himself, even though he's not even signed yet, to help teach Harbaugh's complex playbook to his teammates.
Harbaugh is an excellent offensive coach and is well known for developing quarterbacks. The 49ers and their fans can only hope that he and Alex Smith can work some magic together.
4) Tim Anderson
Tim Anderson was a standout at Ohio State from 1968-1970. He was a first team All-American in 1970 and was drafted by the 49ers in the first round of the 1971 draft, No. 23 overall.
The 49ers expected Anderson to step in and be an impact player in their defensive backfield, along with Hall of Fame cornerback Jimmy Johnson and standout Bruce Taylor.
Anderson opted to play in Canada from 1971-74. When he returned to the NFL and played for the 49ers in 1975, he was not the player they envisioned when they drafted him. He lasted only one season in San Francisco and it wasn't a good one, as he started only two games.
Anderson moved on to Buffalo in 1976 and was out of football the following year.
3) Rashaun Woods
The 49ers made Rashaun Woods a first-round draft selection, No. 31 overall, in the 2004 draft. The 49ers expected Woods to step in for the recently departed Terrell Owens.
Woods was a member of the 49ers for two seasons, 2004-2005. He was often injured and did not produce when he did see the field.
In 2004, Woods played in 14 games, with 7 receptions for 160 yards. He was criticized for his poor work ethic and inability to play through injuries. Woods was a constant disappointment for the 49ers and did not play at all in 2005.
2) Jim Druckenmiller
Jim Druckenmiller was a collegiate star at Virginia Tech. He was drafted by the 49ers in Round 1 of the 1997 draft, the number 26 overall selection.
Druckenmiller was a big stud of a player, standing 6'4" and weighing 241 pounds. He had an arm like a cannon, but the brain of a cannon ball.
49er legend Bill Walsh, acting as an adviser to the team strongly suggested they draft Jake Plummer, but going against the recommendation of Walsh, the 49ers took Druckenmiller anyway.
Plummer was a mobile, savvy quarterback, who enjoyed a very fine NFL career. Druckenmiller never panned out.
Druckenmiller was not at all mobile, but had an incredibly strong arm. I recall an interview he gave in training camp where he bragged, "Druck's got a howitzer."
The problem with him, however was not his arm, but his lack of mobility and his inability to learn the nuances of the plays.
Druckenmiller had trouble learning the plays, as well as the reads and options on each of those plays. He was, the exact opposite of what Bill Walsh wanted in a quarterback, which was mobility, intelligence and accuracy.
Druckenmiller played in just six games over two years in San Francisco. His career numbers were atrocious, probably because he couldn't learn the plays.
He completed 21 of 52 pass attempts, a percentage of 40.4. He threw four interceptions with one touchdown and had a QB rating of 29.2.
The 49ers were trying to move away from the large shadow that Walsh cast over the franchise. For this reason, I believe, they wanted to prove they could make their own decisions without Walsh, so Druckenmiller was chosen.
As history showed, they should have listened to Bill Walsh.
1) O.J. Simpson
The biggest disappointment and most infamous player in 49er history is O.J. Simpson. The 49ers acquired him from Buffalo in 1978 for a number of draft picks. Simpson was one of the best running backs of all time, but by the time he joined the 49ers, he was well past his prime.
GM Joe Thomas hoped that Simpson's roots in San Francisco would rejuvenate him and increase the 49ers' sagging attendance. Unfortunately, Simpson was unable to rekindle the magic that made him a superstar in Buffalo.
Simpson played his final two years with the 49ers in 1978 and 1979, then retired. In his two years with the 49ers, Simpson rushed for 1,053 yards in 281 carries, a 3.7 yards per carry average.
Simpson could have walked off into the sunset and would not have made our list, except for his problems after his retirement. We all know about the murder trial where Simpson was accused of killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.
He was later found responsible for the deaths in a civil trial, and is currently incarcerated for armed robbery and kidnapping in a confrontation over sports memorabilia.
He has brought shame and disgrace on himself and the organization.
The Current Outlook
There are a couple of players on the 49er roster that could slip into our list at some point. It's still way too early to put them on the list, but they are leaning in that direction.
Michael Crabtree with his me-first attitude and questionable work ethic, as well as Anthony Davis by just being ineffective, are in danger of becoming candidates for this list.
It will be a hard list to crack as the players on it have truly disappointed the 49er franchise.
I actually don't think either player will ever make the list and Jim Harbaugh will be a positive force for their careers. Now, let's get this labor dispute settled so we can start talking about some real football.