San Francisco 49ers All-Franchise Team

As the dog days of the NFL summer approach, the Last Word On Sports will be doing an “All-Franchise” team for each of the league’s 32 clubs. For this series, football writers have composed all-time rosters compiled with the greatest players in each franchise’s history at each position, along with their time and accomplishments with the team. From offense to defense to special teams, each unit is displayed on a first-team, “starter” basis only. Given the San Francisco 49ers rich history, this was a daunting task with many deserving candidates.

All-Franchise Team: San Francisco 49ers

The offensive lineup is comprised of one quarterback, one running back, three wide receivers, one tight end, and five offensive linemen. Though the fullback position was omitted due to its scarcity in modern-day football, players who played that position may be placed as the running back because of their significant contributions to their respective franchise’s ground game.

The defense will have the familiar four defensive back look (two cornerbacks, two safeties), but the front seven is arranged in the 4-3 format. This is because the 49ers currently deploy this set, and they also deployed it in their last Super Bowl championship season. Finally, the special teams will have a kicker, a punter, and a return man responsible for bringing back kickoffs and punts. Below is the All-Franchise team for the San Francisco 49ers.

Head Coach

Bill Walsh (1979 – 1988)

Bill Walsh’s entire career is full of irony. Walsh spent the early part of his career as an up-and-coming assistant under Paul Brown with the Cincinnati Bengals. He aspired to one day take the reins from Brown. Instead, Walsh was snubbed. He eventually wound up as the head coach for the 49ers, where he would go on, poetically, to beat the Bengals in the Super Bowl twice.

Walsh was famous for inventing the “West Coast Offense” that helped establish a dynasty in San Francisco. Quick, short throws were a staple of this offense, and principles of it are still used in today’s NFL. During his time as a head coach of the 49ers, Walsh won three Super Bowls. His coaching tree includes Mike Holmgren, George Seifert, and Mike Shanahan, who have combined for five Super Bowls. There has been nobody more influential to the 49ers, and perhaps the NFL in general, than Walsh.


Quarterback: Joe Montana (1979 – 1992)

It should come as no surprise that Joe Montana is the quarterback of the All-Franchise team. The Notre Dame product is not only the greatest quarterback in 49ers history, but arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Montana was the perfect person to run Walsh’s West Coast Offense. He enjoyed great personal success by making eight Pro Bowls, and winning two MVP awards. What makes Montana truly special, however, is his perfect record in the Super Bowl, bringing home four Lombardi trophies in as many trips.

Running Back: Roger Craig (1983 – 1990)

When it comes to the running back position, the 49ers have a plethora of deserving players. Garrison Hearst, Joe Perry, and Frank Gore could have easily gotten the nod. However, what makes Roger Craig stand out is his ability as both a runner and a receiver, which revolutionized the position. In 1985, Craig became the first player in NFL history to have 1,000 receiving yards and 1,000 rushing yards, a feat that has only been replicated once since. He helped the 49ers to three Super Bowl victories, garnering four Pro Bowls along the way. Despite the 49ers rich history at the position, Craig stands out the most.

Wide Receiver: Jerry Rice (1985 – 2000)

With Montana, it is arguable whether or not he was the greatest quarterback of all time. With Jerry Rice, there is no such argument. Simply put, he is the greatest wide receiver of all time. The three-time Super Bowl champion holds the NFL record for most career receiving touchdowns with 197, most career receiving yard with 22,985, and most career receptions with 1,549. In all three categories, his numbers eclipse the second-place receiver. There was no doubt with this pick.

Wide Receiver: Terrell Owens (1996 – 2003)

Had Terrell Owens played for any other team, he would probably be the number one receiver in that franchise’s history. The presence of Rice blocks Owens from the number one spot, but he is still one of the greatest receivers of all time. Owens finished his career with the third most career touchdown receptions with 129. Many pundits believe Owens was a cancer in the locker room, and his time with the 49ers did not last nearly as long as it should have. Despite this, his on-field production makes him a deserving candidate.

Wide Receiver: Dwight Clark (1979 – 1987)

One of the most iconic plays in NFL history, dubbed “The Catch,” was a six-yard touchdown pass from Joe Montana. The receiver, Dwight Clark, soared high, and caught what seemed like an uncatchable ball. This touchdown put the 49ers in the first of four Super Bowls in the 1980’s. The Clemson product will forever be immortalized by that play, but he had a spectacular career as well. The two-time Pro Bowler led the league in receptions with 60 during the strike-shortened 1982 season. “The Catch” alone, however, is enough for him to make the All-Franchise team.

Tight End: Vernon Davis (2006 – 2014)

It should come as no surprise that the best tight end in 49ers history was also one of the highest drafted. When the 49ers selected Vernon Davis with the sixth overall pick out of Maryland, he became tied for the third highest drafted tight end in NFL history. He flashed immense talent in his first few years, but concerns mounted about his attitude. After a memorable post-game rant by Mike Singletary calling out Davis, he rededicated himself to the game, and had an incredible career with the 49ers.

Left Tackle: Joe Staley (2007 – Present)

Ever since he was drafted out of Central Michigan Joe Staley has been a model of consistency. The six-time Pro Bowler spent his rookie year at right-tackle, and every subsequent year at left-tackle. He has started every game in which he has played, and has played in almost every game throughout his eleven-year career. Staley is the lone 49er starter from their Super Bowl berth left on the roster. With momentum building for the 49ers, he still has a viable chance to anchor a Super Bowl winning offensive line.

Left Guard: Guy McIntyre (1984 – 1993)

Although Guy McIntyre would go on to have the best career of any 49er left guard, he was somewhat of a late bloomer. In his first four seasons McIntyre only started eight games. In McIntyre’s first season as a starter, the 49ers would go on to win the Super Bowl. The next year, he would make his first of five straight Pro Bowls, and help the 49ers win back-to-back championships.

Center: Jesse Sapolu (1983 – 1997)

When it comes to 49ers offensive linemen, no one has as many championship rings as Jesse Sapolu. Drafted out of Hawaii, Sapolu gained four Super Bowl rings throughout his career, which was spent entirely with the 49ers. The two-time Pro Bowl center also spent a few years at guard, demonstrating his versatility. The stalwart interior defensive lineman anchored the team throughout the franchise’s glory years, and is a deserving candidate as the All-Franchise center.

Right Guard: Randy Cross (1976 – 1988)

Similar to Sapolu, Randy Cross was an integral part of several championship 49er teams. He spent his entire career with the 49ers, and played primarily right guard. Cross has three Super Bowl rings to go with three Pro Bowl appearances. The former UCLA Bruin also has stated he will be donating his brain to CTE research. Cross’ appearance on this list should come as no surprise.

Right Tackle: Bob St. Clair (1953 – 1963)

The 49ers were founded in 1946 and not long after that, Bob St. Clair joined the team. St. Clair was born in San Francisco, and went to college at Tulsa. Drafted in the third round, St. Clair went on to become a Hall of Famer for the 49ers. He appeared in five Pro Bowls, and played all of his eleven seasons with the 49ers. Many years have passed since St. Clair donned the red and gold, but no right tackle for the 49ers has surpassed him.

Defense (4-3)

Defensive Tackle: Leo Nomellini (1950 – 1963)

In the early days of the 49ers their first true star was Leo Nomellini. Nomellini was born in Italy, and did not start playing professional football until he was 26 years old. He made ten Pro Bowls, was an All-Pro six times, and was elected into the Hall of Fame. Throughout his entire 14-year career, he never missed a game. Nomellini is one of the greatest defensive linemen of all time, so it is a no-brainer that he makes the 49ers All-Franchise team.

Defensive Tackle: Bryant Young (1994 – 2007)

In Bryant Young’s first season with the 49ers, they won the Super Bowl. From there, team-wise, it was all downhill. Young spent 14 seasons with the 49ers, and would be one of the few bright spots when the team took a turn for the worse in the mid-2000’s. Drafted out of Notre Dame, Young would make four Pro Bowls in his time with the 49ers.

Defensive End: Fred Dean (1981 – 1985)

Fred Dean had such an incredible career, he could probably make two All-Franchise teams. Dean spent his first six seasons with the San Diego Chargers. He was traded mid-season to the 49ers in 1981, in which he helped the 49ers win their first Super Bowl. Dean only spent four and a half seasons with the 49ers, but the Hall of Famer made quite the impact as a pass-rushing specialist.

Defensive End: Justin Smith (2008 – 2014)

For the first seven years of his career, Justin Smith had a quiet career with the Bengals. The fourth overall pick in the 2001 draft was productive, but received little recognition. In 2008, he joined the 49ers, and his career took off. Despite being in his thirties, Smith made five Pro Bowls with the 49ers. His play along the defensive line was one of the main reasons the 49ers defense became a juggernaut under Jim Harbaugh.

Outside Linebacker: Charles Haley (1986 – 1991)

Only two players in NFL history have won five Super Bowl rings: Tom Brady, and Charles Haley. Haley won two championships with the 49ers, and three with the Dallas Cowboys. Haley gave the 49ers one of the best pass-rushers in NFL history. The five time Pro Bowler had over 100 sacks in his 13 year career, including 16 in the 1990 season.

Middle Linebacker: Patrick Willis (2007 – 2014)

The career of Patrick Willis was incredible, albeit brief. Willis only played eight years before retiring at the age of 29. But in those eight years Willis made seven Pro Bowls and was a five time All-Pro. The only year in which he did not make the Pro Bowl was when he was injured in his final season. Willis was the unquestioned leader of the 49ers teams that made it to three straight NFC Championships.

Middle Linebacker: Dave Wilcox (1964 – 1974)

The other All-Franchise linebacker spot goes to Dave Wilcox. Wilcox spent his entire career with the 49ers, making seven Pro Bowls, including six straight. Drafted out of Oregon, Wilcox would go on to make the Hall of Fame. He never played on a Super Bowl team, but he is a deserving member of the 49er All-Franchise team.

Cornerback: Jimmy Johnson (1961 – 1976)

Of all the cornerbacks to play for the 49ers, one stands alone. Jimmy Johnson’s career at cornerback for the 49ers was truly remarkable. Johnson played 16 seasons for the 49ers. In that long career, he was a four time All-Pro. The sixth overall pick in the 1961 NFL draft amassed 47 interceptions in his career, and was elected into the Hall of Fame.

Cornerback: Deion Sanders (1994)

The selection of Deion Sanders to the 49ers All-Franchise team could come as a surprise, as he only played one year with the 49ers. In that one year, however, Sanders had six interceptions, and returned three for touchdowns. He helped the 49ers win a championship, and recorded an interception in the Super Bowl. He became the first 49er to ever win Defensive Player of the Year. Though he only spent one season with the 49ers, Sanders had arguably the best year a cornerback has ever had.

Safety: Ronnie Lott (1981 – 1990)

The 49ers have a storied history, with many players in the argument for the best at their respective position. Ronnie Lott is one such player in contention for the best safety of all time. The former USC Trojan made ten Pro Bowls, and was a six-time All Pro. With the 49ers, he amassed four Super Bowl rings, and was elected into the Hall of Fame. Lott spent time at cornerback as well, but played a majority of his seasons at safety.

Safety: Merton Hanks (1991 – 1998)

With Lott securing one safety position on the All-Franchise team, the other safety spot goes to the player that eventually replaced Lott. Merton Hanks spent eight years with the 49ers. He was a four-time Pro Bowler, and an integral part of the 49ers last Super Bowl win. Hanks was famous not only for his interceptions, but for his celebration dances.

Special Teams

Kicker: Ray Wersching (1977 – 1987)

The 49ers have been blessed with an abundance of great kickers throughout their history. The best kicker, however, is Ray Wersching. Wersching is the 49ers all-time leader in field goals made with 190. He has also attempted the second most field goals in franchise history. Throughout his eleven-year run with the 49ers, he kicked in two Super Bowls.

Punter: Andy Lee (2004 – 2014)

In a league with incredible excitement on the offensive side of the ball, it is easy to forget about punters. But Andy Lee was a staple of consistency during his eleven-year stint with the 49ers. Lee has attempted the most punts in 49er history by far. He also has the best yards per punt of any punter with more than 20 attempts. His longest punt, which went for 82-yards, is the second longest punt in 49er history. Lee is very deserving as the All-Franchise punter.

Return Man: Abe Woodson (1958 – 1964)

The man returning kicks for the All-Franchise team is Abe Woodson. Woodson was a cornerback for the 49ers, but he also returned both punts and kickoffs. In his career, Woodson was a two-time All-Pro return man. He returned two punts and five kickoffs for touchdowns. Woodson also has the best yards per kickoff return of any 49er ever with more than ten attempts. Woodson is the most dangerous return man in 49er history.

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