Ten Draft Picks That Changed the 49ers


Last week the 49ers showed their linebacker love for Patrick Willis by making him the highest paid linebacker in the NFL with a five-year contract extension worth up to $50 million.  No one will doubt that signing Willis now was the wise choice even with two years left on his old contract.  Willis has an NFL high 467 tackles since he joined the league in 2007 and has made the Pro Bowl every year.

With the Willis signing it got me thinking about how he was a draft pick that changed the 49ers team.  The 49ers have had many players that changed the direction of the team and in no order here are my ten draft picks that changed the 49ers forever.

Joe Montana- Drafted in 1979/Round 3/Pick 82:  The 49ers were basically non-contenders before Bill Walsh drafted Montana and changed the 49ers into a respectable team and lead them to four Super Bowl championships.  Joe Cool is regarded as one of the best quarterbacks to play the game.

Jerry Rice- Drafted in 1985/Round 1/Pick 16:  Montana was able to win his first Super Bowl without Rice however it would have been difficulty for the 49ers to win four more with Rice not on the team.   Rice not only changed the 49ers but also the NFL and the wide receiver position.  Known for his great work ethic he is the best wide receiver to ever play in the NFL.  He will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in August.

Andy Lee- Drafted in 2004/Round 6/Pick 186: I know what you are thinking, he is a punter!  Without Lee however the 49ers would have had an even worse record in every season since he was drafted.  Lee made up for a futile offense that consistently had three-and-outs and the 49ers depended on Lee in the battle of field position.  As a two-time NFL Pro Bowl selection in 2007 and 2009 Lee has broken numerous punting records ever year he has played.

Patrick Willis- Drafted in 2007/Round 1/Pick 11: The Freak.  Mike Singletary almost talked former general manager Scot McCloughan out of drafting Willis because he did not see him transitioning into a great linebacker in the NFL.  Good thing McCloughan did not listen to the coach as Willis was the AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2007, is a three-time Pro Bowl selection and in his first NFL game he recorded 11 tackles, including 9 solo, and a forced fumble.

Ronnie Lott- Drafted in 1981/Round 1/Pick 8:  Lott is best known as the hardest hitting safety to put on a uniform.  He changed the way the 49ers played defense because he was physical and struck fear in wide receivers.  Without him it would have been hard for the 49ers to win eight division titles and four Super Bowls in the 1980’s.

Roger Craig- Drafted in 1983/Round 2/ Pick 49:  Craig allowed the 49ers to have a balanced offensive attack that made defenses account for the running game.  Craig helped the 49ers to three Super Bowl wins and became the first player to score three touchdowns in a Super Bowl in 1985.  Craig was also the first player in NFL history to gain 1,000 yards running and receiving in the same season, 1985.

Bryant Young- Drafted in 1994/Round 1/Pick 7:  In Young’s long tenure with the 49ers, 14 seasons, he had 89.5 career sacks and was the last player on the 49ers roster who was on the 1994 Super Bowl team until he retired in 2007. Young was a force on the defensive line and helped developed young players on defense.  Young was a model citizen for 49er players on how they should act and carry themselves while with the team.

Jesse Sapolu- Drafted in 1983/Round 11/Pick 289:  Sapolu was a steal in the 11th round; they had 11 rounds back then! As an offensive lineman he spent his entire 14 year career with the 49ers.  He was a two-time Pro Bowl selection and is one of six 49ers who won four Super Bowls with the team.  Much like Joe Staley today, Sapolu was the anchor on the offensive line.

Dwight Clark- Drafted in 1979/Round 10/Pick 1: Clark had a great career for the 49ers in which he had 506 catches for 6750 yards and 48 touchdowns.  He led the NFL in receptions (60) during the strike shortened 1982 season, and made the Pro Bowl twice in 1981 and 1982 in his nine NFL seasons.  Clark helped the 49ers win two Super Bowls.  He could have only had one reception, “The Catch”, and he would still have been on this list.  “The Catch” was in the 1982 NFC Championship game against the Cowboys that advanced the 49ers to the Super Bowl.

Vernon Davis- Drafted 2006/Round 1/Pick 6:  Having Davis on the list is a stretch because I am basing his future success on last season which has been his only productive year as a tight end.  With his athletic ability how can he not become one of the best tight ends to play for the 49ers?  If the 49ers are going to become playoff contenders they succeed or fail depending on how well Davis plays.  Davis went to the Pro Bowl last season and tied an NFL record for most touchdowns by a tight end (13) in a season last year.

Honorable mentions: Frank Gore, Harris Barton, Joe Staley, Terrell Owens, Eric Heitmann

Tags: 49ers 49ers 49ers 2009 Season 49ers 2009 Training Camp 49ers Injuries 49ers New Stadium 49ers Offensive Coordinator 49ers Preseason 49ers QB 49ers Quarterback 49ers Training Camp 2009 Free Agency Adam Ten Draft Picks That Changed The 49ers

  • DK49ers

    Wake up – Andy Lee 3rd? The dude is a punter – a good one but a punter nonetheless. He’s 47th on the list of great 49er picks. Please get in the game.

  • FaStRmAn

    T.O. should get a DIShonerable mention. Although he was not the giant nutjob he is today when he was with the Niners (as far as we know…) he is still a really bad seed and shouldn’t be mentioned with the GREATS on this list. I’d like to point out one error on your list. You have Jerry Rice as the “greatest receiver to ever play the game”. It should read “greatest PLAYER to ever play the game.” Who would you argue was BETTER? Jerry Rice was the greatest of all time!

  • Ben

    Great column…however a couple of notable Omissions: Charles Haley & Randy Cross.

  • http://www.trestinmeacham.org/ Trestin Meacham

    Lee is on the list but not Frank Gore? Do you live under large power lines?

  • Rob

    I agree with Ben – Charles Haley was a big defensive impact player – teams had to set strategies to focus on him because he was so disruptive –

    I like Andy Lee and all – but a player that “changed the team?”

    Frank Gore – Love him, but wouldn’t rate him in the top 10

    Vernon Davis – a Beast that finally had the breakout year – Seriously, the only current niner worthy of the Top 10 is P Willie

    John Taylor – without him, I’d say that Jerry Rice would’ve slightly been less godly (btw – I was there the Monday Night game in Anaheim where he had the 2 90 plus yard touchdowns)

    TO – Dude, regardless of his antics, for a 3rd rounder, he was for a time, the best receiver not named Jerry Rice in the NFL …

    Anyone remember a big Shot-Putter named Michael Carter?

    I’m not that old-school, but I’m sure RC Owens and Hugh McElaney deserve some mention

  • Robert

    Not to diminish the contributions of any of the great players mentioned in the article and in the comments above, please do not forget Leo Nomellini, Y.A. Tittle and Hugh McElhenny, and honorable mentions to John Brodie, Jimmy Johnson and Bob St. Clair. Each of these players added significantly to their respective teams and helped create the style of 49 Football — and provided us with great joy and excitement through the years.

  • 49erGuru

    I know Romanowski was an idiot/psycho and ended up being so up till the end of his career, but he was also a force at LB. Id have to agree about Haley he was definitely a major anchor on the defense.What about John Taylor he led the National Football League in punt return yards (556) in 1988 or what about Tom Rathman who blocked for Craig. Everyone of these players could be on this list. There’s even a guy name Brent Jones who could also be mentioned at least.

  • http://www.auterytech.com/ Steve

    I agree with Ben – Charles Haley was a big defensive impact player – teams had to set strategies to focus on him because he was so disruptive –

    I like Andy Lee and all – but a player that “changed the team?”

    Frank Gore – Love him, but wouldn’t rate him in the top 10

    Vernon Davis – a Beast that finally had the breakout year – Seriously, the only current niner worthy of the Top 10 is P Willie

    John Taylor – without him, I’d say that Jerry Rice would’ve slightly been less godly (btw – I was there the Monday Night game in Anaheim where he had the 2 90 plus yard touchdowns)

    TO – Dude, regardless of his antics, for a 3rd rounder, he was for a time, the best receiver not named Jerry Rice in the NFL …

    Anyone remember a big Shot-Putter named Michael Carter?

    I’m not that old-school, but I’m sure RC Owens and Hugh McElaney deserve some mention