No. 1: Defensive End Justin Smith
As noted, Deion Sanders would have been a surefire No. 1 pick on this list had it not been for the guy actually here.
You know, Justin Smith.
Smith joined the 49ers’ ranks as a free agent in 2008 — a time when San Francisco’s defense was on the rise and needed a key cog within the defensive front.
Needless to say, the move worked out well.
The former Cincinnati Bengal — who never made a Pro Bowl there — went on to earn Pro Bowl accolades in five of his seven years with the Niners, missing only three regular-season games in the process. And in 2011, Smith was also named a first-team All-Pro.
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His interior pass-rushing presence accumulated to 43.5 sacks, which is impressive enough. But his efforts to lock up multiple members of opponents’ offensive lines made him even more valuable. One could argue San Francisco’s old 3-4 defensive front never really worked unless Smith was contributing.
Smith’s contributions also opened the door for edge-rushing specialist, Aldon Smith, in 2011. This tandem was a primary reason the Niners made it to three NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl early in the decade.
Justin Smith retired, of course, just before the 2015 season. Yet his impact goes far beyond the numbers, which is why he’s the No. 1 free-agent pickup in 49ers franchise history.