Friday, August 19, 2016

San Francisco 49ers All Career-Year Team

By John Turney

At Pro Football Journal we are trying to pick the best individual seasons in the history of each franchise, which we will continue today with the 49ers. By "Career-year" we mean the best performances at each position, with the following rule: Only one season per player per position. For example, here, we cannot pick Jerry Rice’s best two seasons and use both QB slots.

Here is the team, First-teams on left, Second-teams on right:
Let's get right to it. We chose Steve Young's, 1994 MVP/Passing title/Super Bowl win season over Joe Montana's, 1989 MVP/Passing title/Super Bowl winning season. Young accounted for 42 touchdowns to 29 for Montana.  As honorable mentions we picked John Brodie, 1970 (NFL MVP), Frankie Albert, 1948 (37 touchdowns accounted for, 102.9 passer rating) and Y.A. Tittle, 1953.  Tittle was All-Pro in 1957 but we felt 1953's Pro Bowl season was better. Also included are Jeff Garcia, 2001, and Colin Kaepernick, 2013 (12-4, 25 TDs overall).

At wide receiver the top two seasons are Jerry Rice, 1987, and Gene Washington, 1970. Rice was All-Everything in 1987 and Washington's 53 catched for 1100 yards with a 20.8  average and 12 touchdowns are big numbers for that era.

The Second-team wide receivers are Terrell Owens, 2001, and Dwight Clark, 1982. Owens's numbers were 93-1412-15.2-16 while Clark was Sports Illustrated's MVP for that season.

The honorable mention list begins with All-Pros Clifton McNeil, 1968 and Dave Parks, 1965 along with R.C. Owens, 1961, Billy Wilson, 1957, Gordie Soltau, 1952, John Taylor, 1989, and last but NOT least is Alyn Beals, 1949.

For the third WR slot we are going with, in order:  J.J. Stokes, 2000, Mike Wilson, 1983, Jerry Rice, 1985 (not a starter as rookie) and Steve Johnson, 2014.

Ted Kwalick, 1972, is First-team tight end and the Second-teamer is Brent Jones, 1994. Vernon Davis, 2013, and Monty Stickles, 1961 are the honorables. Kwalick was considered the best tight end in the NFL for a couple of years but his career tailed off, fast.

In keeping with specialists, for third down running back we chose for First-team Lenvil Elliott, 1980, and then for Second-team Phil Francis, 1979.

The fullback is Tom Rathman, 1989, and the backup is Fred Beasley, 2003. The honorable mentions are William Floyd, 1997, Marc Logan, 1993, and Bruce Miller, 2014

The starting running backs are Roger Craig, 1988, and Joe Perry, 1953. The backups are Frank  Gore, 2006, and Hugh McElhenny, 1956. We picked 1988 for Craig, though his 1000-1000 season of 1985 was tempting.

The list of honorable mentions includes John Henry Johnson, 1954, Ricky Watters, 1994,  Garrison Hearst, 1998 (All-NFC),  Pro Bowlers Delvin Williams, 1976 Wendell Tyler, 1984, Charlie Garner, 2000, and  J.D. Smith, 1959. All were All-NFC or Pro Bowl picks and had excellent statistical seasons.

Forrest Blue, 1971, is the First-team center. Blue was All-Pro a few times, then his career just fizzed out, much like Ted Kwalick's. One of the best, then nothing. Fred Quillan, 1984, is Second-team and the honorable mentions are Bart Oates, 1994, Bill Johnson, 1952, and Jeremy Newberry, 2002.
For guards we have Bruno Banducci, 1954, and Randy Cross, 1984. Both were All-pros, Banducci was a key blocker for the Million Dollar Backfield and Cross was best lineman in the 1980-85 era of the 49ers, which won two Super Bowls. We chose Mike Iupati, 2012, and Guy McIntyre, 1992, as Second-teams, but it was a close decision between them and John Thomas, 1966, and Howard Mudd, 1968,

The rest of the honorables are Ray Brown, 2001,  Jesse Sapolu, 1993, Woody Peoples, 1972, Bruce Bosley, 1960.
Bob St. Clair, 1956 and Harris Barton, 1993 get top spots. We chose the season when St. Clair is purported to have blocked 10 kicks. We've not seen film or gamebook evidence of such, but is is in the 49er lore and he was an All-Pro that year, as was Barton in 1993. Two fine pass blockers are next in Keith Fahnhorst, 1984, and Joe Staley, 2013 are the Second-teamers. Staley only had two penalties called on him that year (neither were holding calls) and only allowed just three sacks.

The special mentions are Steve Wallace, 1992, Leo Nomellini, 1952 (played more defense in other years), Len Rhode, 1970, Walt Rock, 1965 and Cas Banaszak, 1971 as all received some sort of post-season honors.

The First-team kicker is David Akers, 2011 and Mike Cofer, 1989, backs him up.  Both had outstanding years. Honorable mentions go to Bruce Gossett, 1973, and Ray Wersching, 1986.

Tommy Davis, 1962 gets the First-team nod. He was a Paul Zimmerman favorite. However, as we looked at the numbers he had a lot of return yardage and touchdowns against him. Was it his fault? We don't know. He could have been out-kicking his coverage a bit too often or the coverage teams could have been poor. Andy Lee, 2011. Lee could have been a choice for either 2011 or 2012. He had higher net in 2011 but his 36-4 Inside-the-20 to touchback ratio was better in 2012. Neither season was perfect, though not exactly his fault, in 2011 he had one blocked and in 2012 one was returned for a touchdown. But in this exercise, we are looking for as close to perfection as we can find. 

In 1960 Davis had none returned for a score, none blocked and only two touchbacks and a net average of 40.7. The prior year he had a net average of 40.8 and in 1962 he led the NFL with a 45.6 average had none returned for a score, and again none blocked and only two touchbacks and had a net of 38.8. We chose 1960. As Zimmerman wrote about Davis he mentioned the touch field conditions and weather in Kezar Stadium. For all those reasons we went with Davis over Lee. The honorable mention is rookie Pro Bowler Tom Wittum, 1973 and his 37.3 net average.

The punt returners are, in order:  John Taylor, 1988. Freddie Soloman, 1980, Dana McLemore, 1984, Hugh McElhenny, 1952 and Ted Ginn Jr., 2010.

Abe Woodson, 1963 is the clear First-team kick returner and Vic Washington's, 1972 Pro Bowl season is the Second-teamer.  Ted Ginn Jr., 2011, is the special mention.

Johnny Fuller, 1970 , a fine coverage man and who blocked six punts/kicks that year is another clear First-teamer. Special teams mainstay Terry Jackson, 2001 (17 tackles, a forced fumble and a blocked kick), is the Second-team pick. Others who had excellent special teams seasons are Navarro Bowman, 2010 (20 tackles). Arnez Battle, 2004 (14 tackles and 2 FR), Bill Ring, 1981 (21 tackles), and C.J. Spillman, 2013 (15 tackles).

Tommy Hart, 1976 and Justin Smith, 2011, are the First-team ends. Cedrick Hardman, 1971, and  Pierce Holt, 1992, are their Second-team counterparts. The long list of honorable mentions begins with  Chris Doleman, 1998 (45 tackles, 15 sacks, 4 forced fumbles), Ed Henke, 1952, 3-4 end Kevin Fagan, 1990 (63 tackles, 9.5 sacks), Dwaine Board, 1983 (33 tackles, 13 sacks, 5 fumbles recovered), Clark Miller, 1966 (10 sacks),  and Dan Colchico, 1961, (9½ sacks), Andre Carter, 2002,  (54 tackles, 12.4 sacks, 3 FF), and ends with Roy Barker in 1996 who had 12.5 to go with his 45 tackles). Clay Matthews had an excellent season in 1954, with likely a double-digit season in sacks.

Hart had a big year in 1972 (65 tackles, 7.5 stuffs and 17 sacks) but we went with his All-Pro year of 1976 when he had 73 tackles (11.5 were stuffs), 16 sacks and three forced fumbles. Smith had 58 tackles, plus 7.5 sacks and a pile of hurries and was superbly stout against the run.

Hardman had several excellent seasons and we chose 1971 in the end. He was the classic pass-rushing end who often ignored the run. When Hardman closed his first trap play the defense held a party for him. It was in 1972, his third season. Nonetheless, he was a great pass rusher and led the NFL in sacks for the Decade of the 1970s. In 1971 he had 45 tackles, 5 forced fumbles and 18 sacks and was a Second-team All-Pro. Holt, like Smith was a 3-4 end who played inside on pass rush downs, in 1992 he was a Second-team All-Pro and had 55 tackles and 5.5 sacks. In 1989 he had 48 tackles and 10.5 sacks but didn't get the mention he did in 1992, so that may be one we rethink.

For all intents and purposes the position of designated pass rusher was developed in San Francisco in 1970 with Cedrick Hardman. That season he had 8½ sacks and though he played in some rotation, he came into the game in likely passing downs. Eleven years later in 1981 Fred Dean made the position even more well known as he was the first non-starter to be voted All-Pro, to a Pro Bowl and to win a conference award (UPI Defensive Player of the Year). He had 13 sacks and was a major impact player in the 49ers Super Bowl run. Dean is the First-team pick and Aldon Smith (14 sacks) is the Second-team pick.
Hardman, Charles Haley, 1986, and inside rusher Gary Johnson, 1984. are the honorable mentions.Dean had another stellar year in 1983 when he had 32 tackles and 17.5 sacks in a nickel rusher role.

Leo Nomellini, 1959, was a consensus All-Pro as was Bryant Young, 1996 (76 tackles, 11.5 sacks and scored two safeties). Nomellini was always noticeable on film, but full statistics are simply not available. Several seasons would qualify him, but we went with the unanimous All-Pro season of 1959.  Those two get the nod over 1997 AP Defensive Player of the Year Dana Stubblefield.  Stubblefield had 61 tackles and 15 sacks plus three forced fumbles.

We tied Cleveland Elam, 1977, and Michael Carter, 1988, for the last spot on the Second-team. Carter was a supreme run-stuffing nose tackle and in 1988 he got to the passer 6.5 times and deflected 9 passes to go with his 73 tackles. He was a rare, every-down nose tackle. He was a consensus All-Pro in 1987, but he was still an NEA All-Pro in 1988 had made more big plays so we chose that year. We also considered 1985 when he had 7 sacks, 7 stuffs among his 47 tackles, and was a Pro Bowler.

Elam was an up-the-field rush tackle. In 1976 he had 14½ sacks and in 1977 he was a consensus All-pro and had 17½ sacks (54 tackles) though he had just 2 behind the line of scrimmage. Charlie Kreuger, 1965, gets an honorable mention for his 7½ season when he was Second-team All-Pro. as does All-Pro Bob Toneff for his 1955 season and Roland Lakes for his 13-sack 1967 season.

The middle/insider backers are Patrick Willis, 2009, and then NaVarro Bowman, 2013. All-Pro Ken Norton, 1995, is relegated to the honorable mentions even though he had 96 tackles (9.5 stuffs) and 2 pick 6s. Also an honorable mention is Hacksaw Reynolds, 1981 (Second-team All-NFC, 117 tackles to lead team), and Winfred Tubbs, 1998, Derek Smith, 2005, led NFL with 12.5 run/pass stuffs among his 116 tackles and 7 passes defensed.

Charles Haley, 1990 (58 tackles, 16 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and the UPI Defensive Player of the Year), and Dave Wilcox, 1973, are First-team backers, Haley as a rushbacker. Wilcox graded out the highest of his career in 1973, had 104 tackles (13 for losses) and we could have gone with 1972 just as easily.

On the Second-team rushbacker Aldon Smith, 2012 (66 tackles, 19.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles), and Julian Peterson, 2003 (84 tackles, 7 sacks 12 passes defenses, 2 FF and 2 INT and was All-Pro) get the nods.

Tim Harris, 1992 (64 tackles, 17 sacks), and Matt Hazeltine, 1964 are the top two honorable mentions. Hazeltine was a Second-team All-NFL in 1964 and had 11½ sacks, an extremely rare number for a 4-3 OLBer. In recent years there have been 4-3 OLBers who had double digits in sacks (Kevin Greene and Peter Boulware, for instance) but they were defensive ends in nickel/dime defenses, Hazeltine wasn't. All his sacks were successful linebacker 'dogs'. Harris filled in very well in the 'elephant' position for the departed Charles Haley in 1992.

Other honorable mentions are Keena Turner, 1985 (64 tackles, 6 sacks, 5 PDs and a scoop and score while be voted Second-team All-Pro), Ahmad Brooks, 2013, Lee Woodall, 1995, Dave Washington, 1976 (95 tackles, 4½ sacks, 8 passes deflected and 3 recovered fumbles),  Hardy Brown, 1952. Additionally, Joe Harris in 1978 has to be mentioned. Harris, essentially an NFL journeyman had 121 tackles and 3 sacks, 4 passes deflected, 2 forced fumbles and 3 recovered fumbles, but also had 15.5 stuffs, which led the NFL in 1978 (unofficially, of course). Finally, we add Skip Vanderbundt's 1972 campaign when he scored three defensive touchdowns to go along with his 80 tackles and 9 passes defensed. His scoop and score versus Dallas on Thanksgiving Day garnered the 49ers a key win and Vanderbunt the AP Defensive Player of the Week Award.

Jimmy Johnson, 1971, and Deion Sanders, 1994, are obvious choices at corner. Sanders was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year had 34 tackles and picked off 6 passes for 303 yards and took three to the house. Johnson was an All-Pro from 1969-73, and his seasons were very similar, but he went with 1971 because he did his work playing most of the season with a broken wrist.
Ronnie Lott, 1981, had 89 tackles (many of them "woo hits") and 7 picks, three of which he returned for touchdowns while being Proscout, Inc' top-rated corner is one Second-team pick. The other is Abe Woodson, 1959, is the other though their seasons on most other teams would be at the top. Woodson was a "shutdown corner" before there was such a term. 

Two Erics are next:  Wright, 1985 and Davis, 1995, Carlos Rogers, 2011, Jim Cason, 1949, and Kermit Alexander, 1968 gets honorable mention along with Tim McKyer, 1988 and Don Griffin, 1989.
For strong safety we were all set to go with Dave Baker and his 10 picks in 1960. But, in looking closer, seven of them were in two games. Was he that good that year or did he have two monster games? In the end we put him on the honorable mention list with Antoine Bethea, 2014 and Tony Parrish, 2003, and Donte Whitner, 2013.

For the starter at strong safety we chose Tim McDonald, 1995, and for the backup we chose Carlton Williamson, 1981, Williamson had excellent 1984 and 1985 seasons as well, but we chose 1981, his rookie year based on his #1 rating by Proscout, Inc.

Free safety was easy: Ronnie Lott, 1986 (10 picks, 2 sacks 77 tackles, consensus All-Pro) first, then second is Merton Hanks, 1995. The rest of the HMs are Dwight Hicks, 1981, Dashon Goldson, 2012, Eric Reid, 2013, Lance Schulters, 1999, and Dicky Moegle, 1957. Hicks had 239 yards in interception returns on his 9 picks and one score and 80 yards on his four fumble recoveries and a score, this along with his 76 tackles and 14 pass deflections made him very, very close to Hanks, who was a consensus All-Pro.

Tyronne Drakeford, 1995, gets the nod as the extra defensive back followed by Jeff Fuller, 1985. Others who are noteworthy are Tory Nixon, 1986, Tom Holmoe, 1986, Dedrick Dodge, 1996, and Tarell Brown, 2010. Both in 1995 and 1997 Drakeford pick off five passes in the sub-packages. Fuller would play close to the line of scrimmage and would cover backs and was a key in the nickel/dime package in the Super Bowl-winning season of 1984


  1. Young over Montana. Never in a million years. I understand your metrics but there is no excuse for stupidity.

    I am embarrassed for you and for this web site.

    1. I'm embarrassed that you didn't have the guts to put your name to your poison pen comment!

  2. I will put my name on it because of the tremendous respect and gratitude, for this site...


    Though Young did finally get the monkey off his back and win it all in 94, I still believe Montana's season in 89 was better. Why ? Because even though Young accounted for more TDs with his running ability, Joe defended his world championship and was even more dominant in the postseason. Yes, Joe had a great defence, but the defence that helped Young in 94, was a free agent All Star team, that I believe was assembled illegally. Somebody had to stop the Cowboys ? Joe had a great 81 season as well, because this team came out of nowhere and kept the momentum going and his cool, saavy play enabled a young secondary to combine with Jack Reynolds play and intensity to have a season unlike any before it.

    Brian Wallace, fan and promotor of the NFLs History