The 10 best quarterbacks in the history of the San Francisco 49ers

The top two 49ers quarterbacks of all time are easy to figure out. But, which ones would round out the top 10?

Let's take a look.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana (16) on the sidelines with quarterback Steve Young (8)
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana (16) on the sidelines with quarterback Steve Young (8) / Bob Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers have had some of the NFL's greatest quarterbacks, many of whom are household names. But which ones would classify as the 10 best?

For decades, the San Francisco 49ers could brag they boasted the best quarterback in the history of the NFL, Hall of Famer Joe Montana.

Even after the unparalleled career of the new GOAT, Tom Brady, some circles still argue Montana was the superior of the two, boasting an unblemished Super Bowl record and achievements even Brady wasn't able to touch, including not tossing a Super Bowl interception.

While most have turned the GOAT status over from Montana to Brady, the former is nevertheless an easy choice for the greatest signal-caller in Niners history.

But, what about the rest of the best?

San Francisco has had plenty of top-tier names under center, quarterbacks who stand out against others who achieved not-so-great success.

By taking into account each 49ers quarterback's accolades, stats, achievements and overall impact, Niner Noise presents to you the 10 best in franchise history.

10 best quarterbacks in 49ers history

No. 10: Frankie Albert (1946-1952)

Frankie Albert has the distinction of being the first starting quarterback in Niners franchise history, and he certainly set the bar high.

Known for deploying the bootleg play, Albert joined San Francisco in 1946 and started 11 games his first season at Kezar Stadium. Two seasons later, he led the AAFC in completion percentage (58.3), passing touchdowns (29) and passer rating (102.9). Then, in 1950, Albert secured his first and only Pro Bowl nod once the 49ers joined the NFL despite tossing 14 touchdowns against 23 interceptions.

As far as his NFL win-loss record, which spanned onlyl from 1950 through 1952, Albert went a mere 13-16-1.

But his 10,795 pass yards sit at No. 9 on the franchise's all-time list, while his 115 touchdowns remain fourth most.

No. 9: Jimmy Garoppolo (2017-2022)

While Jimmy Garoppolo left the Niners unceremoniously in 2023 following a tenure that was mired in frequent injury concerns and limited on-field abilities, there's little doubting this quarterback's impact on what was a transitional phase in franchise history.

In short, when San Francisco traded with the New England Patriots for Jimmy G in the middle of 2017, it sought a long-term answer that would solidify the position.

Garoppolo achieved this despite his numerous shortcomings.

Granted, Garoppolo was aided by a star offensive cast by 2019 and was complemented by an elite defense, too. And it's safe to say head coach Kyle Shanahan maximized the quarterback's on-field presence.

For those who remember Garoppolo as merely a winner, who helped the 49ers get to three NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl, it also might help to account for the fact his 13,599 pass yards with the Niners rank seventh best in team history.

Even if he frequently was intercepted by that lurking linebacker over the middle.

No. 8: Brock Purdy (2022-present)

Perhaps in a year or two, we'll be able to move San Francisco's current quarterback up this list by a good margin.

After all, Brock Purdy is showing all the signs of being one of the NFL's best after being selected as the final pick of the 2022 draft.

Garoppolo's injuries led to Purdy breaking onto the scene late his rookie season where he beat Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his first-ever start, becoming the only quarterback to do so when starting his first game.

Since then, Purdy has helmed an offense that reached the NFC Championship twice, the Super Bowl once, earned Pro Bowl honors and was even in the final running for NFL MVP after his first full season as a starter.

In addition to numerous other records and achievements, Purdy set a franchise record for passing yards in 2023 with 4,280 while also leading the NFL in passer rating (113.0).

His star is on the ascent.

No. 7: Alex Smith (2005-2012)

Over the first few years of his career, 49ers fans were ready to turn the page on the No. 1 pick from the 2005 NFL Draft, Alex Smith, who entered a context that would have been dreadful for even the most seasoned of quarterbacks.

Smith endured change after change of offensive coordinators while quickly falling out of favor with then-head coach Mike Nolan.

It took a new head coach in Jim Harbaugh to finally turn Smith's career around in 2011.

That year, Smith dropped his interception total down to five and led the league in lowest interception percentage (1.1). And while some viewed him as the epitome of a game manager, those who witnessed his playmaking abiliites against the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs that season would say otherwise.

Smith's tenure with the Niners would be cut short a year later, though, thanks to a midseason concussion and the ascent of another signal-caller on this list, Colin Kaepernick.

Still, Smith's 14,280 pass yards rank sixth best in franchise history, and now the former top pick from 2005 is fully revered by San Francisco fans everywhere.

No. 6: Colin Kaepernick (2011-2016)

No stranger to controversy, including once his NFL playing days came to a close after 2016, Kaepernick undoubtedly took the league by storm after relieving Smith halfway through 2012.

Kap's strong arm and dynamic scrambling abilities earned the adoration of Harbaugh, who made the switch from Smith permanent, and the 49ers made it all the way to the Super Bowl that season with Kaepernick under center.

En route, Kap almost single-handedly demolished the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs and could have been named Super Bowl MVP had the Niners defeated the Baltimore Ravens a few weeks later.

Alas, it wasn't meant to be. And the Harbaugh-era 49ers soon fell apart after 2014 despite making it to three consecutive NFC Championship games.

Kap's Niners faced hard times in 2015 and 2016, and the wholesale changes that followed ultimately spelled the end for his NFL tenure, although many have argued the 2-14 squad that final year saw the quarterback playing at his best despite a wholly terrible roster surrounding him.

He left San Francisco with a 28-30 win-loss record, 12,271 pass yards (No. 8 in team history) while rushing for 2,300 yards, trailing only Hall of Famer Steve Young in that unique category.

No. 5: Jeff Garcia (1999-2003)

Some may opt to swap Kaepernick for the next quarterback on this list, Jeff Garcia, but the key difference here is the latter being named to three Pro Bowls during his 49ers tenure while also holding the franchise's single-season passing record of 4,278 yards from 2000 through 2022 until Purdy broke it in 2023.

Kap never came close to sniffing the single-season record, although that would have been hard to do in Harbaugh's run-first offense anyway.

Garcia, who cut his teeth up north in the CFL, had big shoes to fill in the wake of Young's devastating end to his own storybook career, but the former ultimately turned into one of the Niners greats in short order.

Granted, it helped having a Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrell Owens as a target, even though the two rarely saw eye to eye. But few can forget that near-miraculous comeback Garcia and Owens engineered in the Wild Card round against the New York Giants in 2002.

Despite a relatively short tenure under center, which lasted only five seasons before San Francisco underwent massive changes in 2004, Garcia still ranks fourth on the franchise's all-time leading passers list with 16,408 passing yards, and his 113 touchdowns thrown rank fifth best.

No. 4: Y.A. Tittle (1951-1960)

Generally speaking, one might figure Y.A. Tittle should rank third behind the 49ers' other two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Young and Montana, seeing how Tittle is only the third such Niners signal-caller to be enshrined in Canton.

However, most would argue Tittle's Hall of Fame résumé was fully cemented when he transitioned to the Giants in 1961 where he'd finally reach NFL MVP honors.

Still, Tittle's lengthy pre-modern-football-era time in San Francisco is more than just noteworthy.

Despite carrying the 49ers to the playoffs just once during that 10-year span, Tittle nevertheless secured four Pro Bowl honors and one first-team All-Pro accolade while being the Associated Press' runner-up for league MVP in 1957.

Even though the nature of passing offenses in the 1950s would be almost unrecognizable and archaic today, Tittle's 16,016 pass yards still sit at fifth best in Niners history.

He, too, would be named in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971, becoming the first quarterback in San Francisco history to achieve this feat.

No. 3: John Brodie (1957-1973)

One of the reasons why the 49ers opted to part ways with Brodie was because they had a young, up-and-coming talent in the form of John Brodie, whose 17 years donning the red and gold still stand as him being the longest-tenured quarterback in team history.

Now, Brodie doesn't have the Hall of Fame pedigree that the other top signal-callers at this point of the list boast. And many would argue his longevity within the league led to him being toward the very top of Niners statistical totals.

That all said, Brodie was pretty darned dynamic in his own right.

Of his 31,548 pass yards, second most in San Francisco history, Brodie led the NFL in passing yards three times (1965, 1968 and 1970) while also tossing more touchdowns than anyone else in 1965 and 1970, too. He also led the league in both yards per game (210.1) and passer rating (93.8) in 1970 in what became both his only first-team All-Pro selection and a coveted league MVP award.

Why isn't Brodie in the Hall of Fame again? Anyone?

Perhaps it's because Brody never achieved the greatest of all team accomplishments, winning a Super Bowl, and those early 1970s campaigns were ultimately thwarted by San Francisco's arch rivals, the Dallas Cowboys.

Still, Brodie's spot as the third best quarterback in 49ers history is well deserved.

No. 2: Steve Young (1987-1999)

It's no longer a debate for the last (and first) two spots on this list of all-time Niners quarterbacking greats.

Young is No. 2, plain and simple. Although things didn't originally appear that way when he found his own way to San Francisco as Montana's backup.

Amid then-head coach Bill Walsh's controversial decision to platoon the two, Young would remain in Montana's shadow until the latter finally left the organization en route to the twilight of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Young, of course, finally "got the monkey off his back" following the 1994 season in which he and the 49ers dominated the San Diego Chargers in the Super Bowl, a game in which the left-handed quarterback set a new record for touchdowns thrown in the big game with six.

Young's Niners career needs little introduction. He was a Pro Bowler every year from 1992 through 1998, a three-time first-team All-Pro, an NFL MVP twice, led the league in passing touchdowns four times and led it in passer rating six times.

In terms of franchise records, Young rushed for more yards than any other quarterback and holds two of the top-five single-season pass-yard records, too.

His 29,907 pass yards sit behind only Brodie on Montana, while Young's 221 passing touchdowns rank second, trailing only the next player on this illustrious list.

No. 1: Joe Montana (1979-1992)

Generally speaking, when Brady does nothing but shower you with adoration and compliments in a high-profile documentary, you deserve to be No. 1 atop any franchise's all-time quarterbacking list.

Such was the case on Peacock's Joe Montana: Cool Under Pressure docuseries about one of the best in NFL history.

Even more than Young, there's little that needs to be said about Montana. He sits atop San Francisco's all-time list in career passing yards (35,124), passing touchdowns (244) and is the only quarterback in team history to reach 100 regular-season wins.

Oh, and there are seven Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro honors there, too.

Montana's Super Bowl achievements, however, are the X-factors that truly separate him from the rest of the pack, including almost every other signal-caller in NFL history.

It's true, Montana never tossed a Super Bowl interception (Brady has tossed six), and Montana's 127.8 passer rating in Super Bowl games is tops among those who've attempted at least 40 passes in such contests. And those who watched his game-winning drive in Super Bowl XXIII have often called it the best two-minute drill in league history.

Brady's Super Bowl passer rating is 97.7, by the way.

OK, so Montana might no longer be the quarterbacking GOAT. But, wow, he was nevertheless someone especially special.

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