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Top 10 San Fransico 49ers in NFL History

Updated on September 8, 2014

This high class franchise has built a legacy of winning over the years. Today, I rank the top 10 San Francisco 49ers of all time.

10. Dwight Clark

He made one of the most famous plays in league history.

A 10th round pick in 1979, Dwight Clark was key figure in the team's early success in the 80's. His most memorable play came when he caught the winning touchdown pass thrown by quarterback Joe Montana in the 1981 NFC Championship Game against the Cowboys. The play has since been immortalized as "The Catch" and propelled the 49ers to their first Super Bowl championship. In 1982, he led the league in receptions. He finished his career with over 500 catches for 6,700 yards and 48 touchdowns.

Clark retired after the 1987 season as a two time All-Pro and pro bowler, two time Super Bowl champion, and his #87 has since been retired by the team.

9. Patrick Willis

He helped bring the 49ers defense back to relevancy.

A first round pick in 2007, Patrick Willis made an instant impact on the defense. In his rookie year, he led the league in tackles and was named the defensive rookie of the year. He quickly established as one of the premier middle linebackers in the league and has been compared to greats like Ray Lewis. By 2011, the 49ers had a top ranked defense in every major category and Willis was the leader of the unit. In 2012, he helped the team make their first Super Bowl appearance in almost 20 years.

In his seven years in San Francisco, Willis has been a seven time pro bowler, six time All-Pro, three time linebacker of the year, and two time league leading tackler.

8. Bob St. Clair

"The Geek" is one of the most memorable players in league history.

A third round pick in 1953, Bob St. Clair was a dominant offensive tackle. At 6'9" and 263 pounds, he outmatched many of his contemporaries with his size. In 1956, he recorded 10 blocked field goals. St. Clair holds the distinction of being one of the few players in history to have spent almost his entire playing career in the same city, playing in the same stadium. He was an outstanding blocker, both on passing plays and rushing attempts.

St. Clair retired after the 1963 season as a five time pro bowler, nine time All-Pro, and a member of the 50's all decade team. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.

7. Roger Craig

A versatile back, Roger Craig proved to be the perfect fit at running back for Bill Walsh's west coast offense in San Francisco.

Used primarily as a fullback in his first two seasons, Craig stepped up as the teams running back in 1985. That season he became the first running back in NFL history to rush and receive for 1,000 yards in the same season. His high-knee running style made it difficult for defenders to bring him down. In his career, Craig amassed over 13,000 total yards and 73 touchdowns in 11 seasons. His late fumble 1990 NFC Championship cost the team a chance at a three-peat. His final three seasons spent in Oakland and Minnesota plus the emergence of Ricky Watters made him an after thought pretty quickly.

Craig's ability to run with power and catch the ball out of the backfield made him the first in a new breed of running backs. Marshall Faulk may have taken it a at further, but the Hall needs to recognize the man who did it first.

6. Hugh McElhenny

"The King" was one of the first great elusive runners in league history.

A first round pick in 1952, Hugh McElhenny made an immediate impression as a rookie. In his first season, he recorded the season's longest run from scrimmage, the longest punt return, the top rushing average, and won the rookie of the year award. Considered the greatest thrill runner of his day, McElhenny ran with a tremendously long stride and high knee action. His breakaway speed and unique ability to change direction at will left defenders dazed and confused. He gained 11,375 all-purpose yards in his 13 year career and was given the nickname "The King" before Elvis Presley.

McElhenny spent his final seasons in Minnesota, New York, and Detroit before retiring after 1964. He was a six time pro bowler, five time All-Pro, and a member of the 50's all decade team. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1970.

5. Jimmy Johnson

He was one of the first great playmaking defensive backs in league history.

A first round pick in 1961, Jimmy Johnson was used as a defensive back as a rookie, moved him to the offensive in his second season, and then back to the defensive unit to stay in his third season. He intercepted five passes in his rookie season but also did well with 34 receptions for 627 yards and four touchdowns as a wide receiver in 1962. Recognized as one of the best man-to-man defenders in history, Johnson's reputation was so great that opposition quarterbacks rarely threw into his defensive territory. He still intercepted 47 passes and returned them for 615 yards in his career.

Johnson retired after 1976 as a five time pro bowler, four time All-Pro, and a member of the 70's all decade team. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994.

4. Ronnie Lott

He is arguably the best all around safety ever to play the game.

A first round pick in 1981, Ronnie Lott made an instant impact on the poor defense. In his first season, he helped the defense go from the worst overall two the second best in the league, he recorded seven interceptions as a cornerback, helped the 49ers to win Super Bowl XVI, and also became only the second rookie in NFL history to return three interceptions for touchdowns. He was not only a great cover man, but a fierce hitter as well. In 1985, Lott switched to safety and he chopped his injured pinky finger so he would miss an playing time. In 1986, he led the league with 10 interceptions. He is one of only five players to play on all four of the team's Super Bowl victories in the 80's.

Lott spent his final seasons with the Jets, Raiders, and Chiefs before retiring in 1995. He was a 10 time pro bowler, eight time All-Pro, and four time Super Bowl champion. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.

3. Steve Young

He is one of the most efficient quarterback ever to play.

After spending time in Tampa Bay, the 49ers brought in Steve Young in 1987 after Joe Montana was knocked out of the playoffs the year before. With Montana injured in 1991, Young got his opportunity to start and led the league in passer rating and was also an impressive scrambling quarterback. The next season, he led the team to a 14-2 record and became the first quarterback ever to record a triple digit passer rating in consecutive seasons. In 199r, he led the team to Super Bowl XXIX and broke Joe Montana's game record for most touchdowns in a Super Bowl by throwing six against the Chargers and becoming the first team to win five Super Bowls. He holds the NFL records for highest career quarterback rating by a retired player and most career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.

Young retired after 1999 as a seven time pro bowler, six time All-Pro, two time NFL MVP, three time Super Bowl champion, and Super Bowl XXIX MVP. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.

2. Joe Montana

"Joe Cool" is still considered the best winning quarterback of all time.

A third round pick in 1979, Joe Montana was the steal of the draft class. Midway through 1980, he became the starter and in one of his first games, he led a 31 point comeback against New Orleans which became the first of many great clutch performances. That year he also led the league in completion percentage. In 1981, Montana led the team to their first of four Super Bowl victories in the 80's. In Super Bowl XXIII, he led the team to a victory on a 92 yard drive with less than four minutes to go in the game. The next year, he set a then Super Bowl record five touchdown passes in the victory. In four Super Bowls, he completed 83 of 122 passes for 1,142 yards and 11 touchdowns with no interceptions.

Montana spent his final seasons in Kansas City before retiring in 1994. He was an eight time pro bowler, five time All-Pro, two time NFL MVP, four time Super Bowl champion, and three time Super Bowl MVP. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.

1. Jerry Rice

He is not only the best receiver ever to play, but is arguably the best player in league history.

A first round pick in 1985, Jerry Rice quickly made an impact on the offense. In his sophomore season, he led the league in receiving yards in his first of six seasons. In 1987, he caught a then NFL record 22 touchdowns in a season and was named the league MVP. In Super Bowl XXIII, Rice caught a then record 11 passes for a then record 215 yards and a touchdown. The next year he broke the Super Bowl record for most receiving touchdowns in the game with three. In 1994, he broke Jim Brown's record for career touchdowns. He holds numerous NFL records including being the NFL's all time leading receiver, most career games played by a position player, and most 1,000 yard receiving seasons by a wide receiver among others.

Rice spent his final seasons in Oakland and Seattle before retiring in 2004. He was a 13 time pro bowler, 12 time All-Pro, the 1987 NFL MVP, three time Super Bowl champion, and Super Bowl XXIII MVP. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.


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    • Alphadogg16 profile image

      Kevin W 

      4 years ago from Texas

      This is a great list Ty Taylor. I'm not a 49er fan, but I really can't think of any greats that you left of. I guess I'd honorable mention John Taylor and Dion Sanders, even though he was only with them for a short period of time.


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