With a month to go in the 2022 season (and a month of playoffs) 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa is pushing to have the top season by a 49ers edge player in franchise history. He will be named on some ballots for the AP Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) but unless Micah Parsons slumps and Bosa goes off in the final four games (if they don't rest Week 18) then Bosa will probably not win it. Parsons will.
But is Bosa's 2022 season the best season in franchise history among players that have played either defensive end in a 4-3 defense or outside linebacker in a 3-4 who put the hand on the ground in passing situations?
Remember the 49ers have had a long legacy of elite pass rushers, even inside guys but that is a discussion for another day.
Here is how we rank them choosing only the best season by each player (one per customer). Later in this post there is a list of the top 25 that does include all seasons.
1. Fred Dean, 1981—12.0 sacks for the 49ers. He was the UPI NFC Defensive Player of the Year and his acquisition was vital to the 49ers getting to and winning the Super Bowl. Dean has amazing natural strength and coming out of college he ran a 4.5 forty.
2. Charles Haley, 1990—16.0 sacks, like Dean he was also the UPI NFC Defensive Player of the Year, and unlike Dean, he did not get a ring that season, he got his pair the previous two seasons. He also forced three fumbles, credited with nine passes defended and 58 tackles.
3. Nick Bosa, 2022—Bosa is playing great and as mentioned will rank high in the AP DPOY voting, we're guessing a lot of second-place votes in the new voting format the AP is using) and is a lock for First-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl. With a month to go his sack total might challenge the franchise record. In our view, if he finishes strong he could end up as number one on this list. While a Super Bowl ring is not mandatory in our eyes it helps separate players who had similar statistical seasons. Stay tuned.
4. Tommy Hart, 1976—was First-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler, he totaled 73 tackles (12 were run stuffs), 16 sacks and three forced fumbles. He devastated the Rams on a Monday Night game with six sacks and numerous hurries.
5. Aldon Smith, 2012—He set a franchise record for sacks with 19.5 and recorded 66 tackles and three forced fumbles. He was a First-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler. As good an athlete as Dean was, Smith was even more of a physical freak.
6. Cedrick Hardman, 1971—Made 45 tackles, forced five fumbles and 18 sacks. and was a Second-team All-Pro and voted to the Pro Bowl and played on a team that got to the NFC Championship, losing to the Cowboys.
7. Clay Matthews, Sr., 1954—Complete sack data is not known but we know it was a decent number. According to TJ Troup and Nick Webster based on the films available for teams that year Matthews likely had the most in the NFL that year. They think it was either him or his teammate Jack Brumfield. Matthews, however, did not get any post-season honors for his stellar season.
8. Chris Doleman, 1997—12 sacks and four forced fumbles on one of the top run-stopping defenses in the NFL that almost went to a Super Bowl. He had more sacks in 1998 but they seemed less impactful when you were watching them.
9. Tim Harris, 1992—Playing the 'Elephant' position Harris racked up 17 sacks and made 64 tackles, and forced a fumble.
10. Dwaine Board, 1983—Played left defensive end in a 30 front but played outside (moving to right end) on passing downs. He had 33 tackles, 13 sacks, and five fumbles recovered
11. Andre Carter, 2002—Also a left defensive end, he was in his second year, and along with Bosa, Dean, and Aldon Smith he is among the twitchiest athletes on this list. He forced three fumbles, made 54 tackles and totaled 12.5 sacks.
12. Stan Hindman, 1967—The late 1960s 49ers could rush the passer with their front four and had a couple of linebackers who could augment them. Hindman had 12 sacks
13. Clark Miller, 1966—Ditto. Miller had ten sacks following up a 1965 season when he was an honorable mention All-Pro.
14. Jack Brumfield, 1954—He flashed on film. He played just one NFL season for the 49ers and played well—the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame shows him as the club's 1954 defensive MVP. Brumfield joined the military after the '54 season, and had brief comebacks in '57 and '58 but did not make an NFL roster and got into coaching after that. Talk about a one-year wonder, he may have had the best season by a player that played just a single NFL season.
15. Roy Barker, 1996— Which season: 1996 or 1998? Flip a coin. He had 12.5 and 12 sacks respectively. He was an NFC Defensive Player of the Week once each season. In 1998 half of his sacks occurred in two games. In 1996 they came more consistently and he had a higher grade, according to a trusted pro scouting firm. So that year was picked.
16. Charley Powell, 1953 —Legend has it that Powell got to the Lions quarterback ten times in one game as a rookie in 1952. It's not true, but it's a good story. However, some of his good games are on film and he did look good rushing the passer and he deserves a mention. He was a boxer and after his football career resumed his career, even fighting Muhammad Ali. But he was more consistent in 1953 even though he didn't have the "big game" that he did in 1952 so his sophomore NFL season is the pick.
17. Charlie Krueger, 1960—Before he moved to defensive tackle where he was a 49er mainstay for over a decade Krueger was an end. Sack data is not complete for 1960 so he had other seasons with more sacks but he was Second-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler so writers and players must have thought he was pretty good that year.
18. Daniel Colchico, 1961—He had at least 9½ sacks in his career year. The following year it was 8½. He was a very solid left defensive end.
19. Kevin Greene, 1997—As a one-year 49er he had 10.5 sacks in the "elephant" position.
20. Ricky Jackson, 1995—The former Saint recorded 9.5 sacks in his final NFL season also in the
so-called elephant spot.
For purists, here is a ranking that includes multiple seasons by players—
- Fred Dean—1981
- Charles Haley—1990
- Nick Bosa—2022
- Tommy Hart—1976
- Nick Bosa—2021
- Aldon Smith—2012
- Cedrick Hardman—1971
- Clay Matthews Sr.—1954
- Fred Dean—1983
- Tommy Hart—1972
- Charles Haley—1988
- Cedrick Hardman—1975
- Cedrick Hardman—1976
- Chris Doleman—1997
- Charles Haley—1989
- Tim Harris—1992
- Aldon Smith—2011
- Charles Haley—1986
- Dwaine Board—1983
- Andre Carter—2002
- Chris Doleman—1998
- Stan Hindman—1967
- Clark Miller—1966
- Jack Brumfield—1954
- Charley Powell—1952
- Charlie Krueger—1960
Kevin Greene and Rickey Jackson.