San Francisco 49ers: Top 5 Running Backs in Franchise History

Augustin KennadyContributor IIIDecember 3, 2011

San Francisco 49ers: Top 5 Running Backs in Franchise History

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    Frank Gore is building on his already excellent career, and will likely amass his first career playoff yardage this upcoming January. The star running back for the San Francisco 49ers is among the league’s premiere backs, but how does he rank among other rushing leaders in team history? Read on to find out!

No. 5. J.D. Smith

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    J.D. Smith was an exceptionally versatile back who came into his own as the fullback of the San Francisco 49ers. His eight-year career with the 49ers was marked with quality statistics and excellent ball control; Smith rarely fumbled. His hands were exemplary, and San Francisco employed him as a kickoff returner in several seasons. His career numbers in San Francisco:

    Nine Seasons: 1007 carries, 4370 yards, 4.3 AVG, 37 TD, 15 fumbles

    Best Season (1959): 207 carries, 1036 yards, 5.0 AVG, 10 TD, 3 fumbles

    Smith added five receiving touchdowns during his playing days for the 49ers. 

No. 4. Ken Willard

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    Ken Willard was a strong fullback who had excellent receiving skills out of the backfield. His reputation is perhaps not as high as it should be, however, as Willard was the team’s leading rusher during a middling period in San Francisco. He fumbled fairly frequently given his dual purpose. While he never amassed 1000 yards rushing in a season, he surpassed 1000 all-purpose yards in five different seasons, including 1970 when the team went 10-3. His career numbers in San Francisco:

    Nine Seasons: 1582 carries, 5930 yards, 3.8 AVG, 45 TD, 41 fumbles

    Best Season (1968): 227 carries, 967 yards, 4.3 AVG, 7 TD, 4 fumbles

    He also added 16 receiving touchdowns during his tenure with the 49ers. 

No. 3. Frank Gore

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    The best offensive player on the San Francisco 49ers for the past several years, running back Frank Gore functions like a power full back. He is generally utilized in power run schemes and has demonstrated superior blocking abilities. After being hobbled for part of the 2010 season, Gore has rebounded nicely and is having an excellent 2011 season. With a strong performance on Sunday, he will surpass 1000 yards rushing in a season for the fifth time.

    Seven Seasons: 1574 carries, 7323 yards, 4.7 AVG, 40 TD, 28 fumbles

    Best Season (2006): 312 carries, 1695 yards, 5.4 AVG, 8 TD, 6 fumbles

    Gore also has nine total receiving touchdowns. 

No. 2. Roger Craig

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    While Frank Gore may be a better true “running back” than Roger Craig, it is impossible to discount Craig’s playoff success and excellent receiving game. “Catfish” led the San Francisco 49ers in receiving in 1985 and amassed over 2000 all-purpose yards. He went over 2000 all-purpose yards again in 1988 when he won Offensive Player of the Year. His career statistics as a rusher with San Francisco:

    Eight Seasons: 1686 carries, 7064 yards, 4.2 AVG, 50 TD, 37 fumbles

    Best Season (1988): 310 carries, 1502 yards, 4.8 AVG, 9 TD, 8 fumbles

    Craig also contributed 16 receiving touchdowns and over 4000 receiving yards. 

No. 1. Joe Perry

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    Going back to the pre-merger days, Joe Perry was one of the best fullbacks in football. The Hall of Famer’s prowess as a rusher led him to lead the league in rushing three times in his career. He is the San Francisco 49ers all-time leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. While his numbers are potentially within reach for Frank Gore, it will require several more years of dominance in order to match them. He will have a way to go to match Perry on 49ers tenure: Perry played with the team for fourteen seasons.

    14 seasons: 1667 carries, 8689 yards, 5.2 AVG, 71 TD, 66 fumbles

    Best Season (1954): 173 carries, 1049 yards, 6.1 AVG, 8 TD, 6 fumbles

    Perry also amassed 11 receiving touchdowns for the 49ers.