49ers draft list: Niners' best picks by round

As draft weekend approaches, it should be noted that Bill Walsh built a dynasty by finding gems in the later rounds of the college lottery, an approach the team's new regime is attempting to emulate. The Niners have had good picks across the board the past two years, and perhaps someday one or more of those picks can join this list of the team's very best selections in each round since 1980.

FIRST: WR Jerry Rice, 1980. Yes, Rice is cream of the team's crop of first-rounders since Walsh began building his dynasty at the turn of the decade more than a quarter-century ago. The trade to move up and snatch Rice in the middle of the first round was a brilliant move by Walsh, and all it cost the then-defending Super Bowl champion 49ers was their late selections in the first, second and third rounds - a bargain for a team that only needed to add a few players because its roster already was so strong. Rice went on to smash every significant NFL receiving record while becoming, arguably, the greatest player in league history.
Others considered: DB Ronnie Lott, 1981; DL Dana Stubblefield, 1993; DL Bryant Young, 1994

SECOND: RB Roger Craig, 1983. Looking for a running back to pair in the backfield with Wendell Tyler, whom the team had acquired before the draft by sending two high selections to the Los Angeles Rams, the 49ers struck gold with Craig, a first-round talent who slipped into the second round before being snatched up by San Francisco. Craig excelled as a rookie, and had taken Tyler's spot as the team's featured back by 1985, when he became the first player in NFL history to record 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. Craig finished his career in San Francisco No. 2 in team history with 7,064 yards rushing and No. 3 with 508 receptions.
Others considered: LB Keena Turner, 1980; CB Eric Davis, 1990; RB Ricky Watters, 1992; OL Jeremy Newberry, 1998

THIRD: WR Terrell Owens, 1996. Owens was a diamond-in-the-rough nobody from Tennessee-Chattanooga when he was drafted, but he immediately became a factor as a rookie, moved into the starting lineup a year later, then developed into the big, bad T.O. manchild that became one of the NFL's top playmakers of this era. He also underwent a complete personality metamorphosis from a considerate, respectful and energetic individual to the antagonizing force he became before leaving San Francisco, a place where he averaged 14.5 yards on 592 receptions while scoring 81 TDs in eight seasons.
Others considered: S Carlton Williamson, 1981; G Guy McIntyre, 1984; FB Tom Rathman, 1986; WR John Taylor, 1986; RB Frank Gore, 2005

FOURTH: DE Charles Haley, 1986. One of the featured stars from the class of '86 that is considered one of the greatest drafts in NFL history, Haley record 66.5 sacks in his six seasons with the team (not including his brief reappearance in 1999), leading the San Francisco in that category each season. He was yet another gem from a small college that would blossom into an All-Pro with the 49ers.
Others considered: OT Steve Wallace, 1986; S Lance Schulters, 1998

FIFTH: S Merton Hanks, 1991. The 49ers drafted Hanks as a cornerback, where he soon became a starter before moving to free safety, where he became a Pro Bowl starter four consecutive seasons. It wasn't long before Hanks made up for San Francisco's mistake of taking safety Dana Hall in the first round in 1992, one of the biggest first-round draft gaffes of the team's Super Bowl era.
Others considered: LB Riki Ellison, 1983; DL Michael Carter, 1984

SIXTH: LB Lee Woodall, 1994. Not many people had heard of Woodall when he was drafted out of tiny West Chester College, but all he did was become an immediate starter - and one of the final pieces in the puzzle - for a team that would go on to win San Francisco's last Super Bowl championship. After making a big impact as a rookie, Woodall then made it to the Pro Bowl in both 1995 and 1997. And, he gained a lot of notoriety along the way as a striking Evander Holyfield lookalike.
Others considered: DT Pete Kugler, 1981; CB Don Griffin, 1986; FB Fred Beasley, 1998

SEVENTH: TE Eric Johnson, 2001. Johnson quickly moved into the starting lineup as a rookie and became a factor for a team that would grow into NFC West champions in 2002. After the bottom fell out on the franchise, Johnson remained one of the team's bright spots, setting a team record for tight ends with 82 receptions during the 2-14 season of 2004.
Others considered: QB Tim Rattay, 2000; LS Brian Jennings, 2000; OL Eric Heitmann, 2002

EIGHTH: Elvis Grbac, 1993. The draft was shortened from 12 rounds to eight in 1993, the year the 49ers snagged Grbac after the QB - who had a successful college career at Michigan - had an inexplicable freefall on draft weekend. Grbac became a solid starting quarterback who actually had some observers believing he should get the call over Steve Young when the latter battled injuries in the late 1990s. After 1993, the draft was condensed to the seven-round format that remains today.
Others considered: LB Bobby Leopold, 1980

NINTH: RB Derrick Harmon, 1984. Harmon made an immediate impact on a Super Bowl team, averaging 4.9 yards a carry as a rookie and averaging 27.5 yards on kickoffs returns. He continued to be a contributor in a variety of roles over the next two seasons.
Others considered: None

10TH: DB/KR Dana McClemore, 1982. The University of Hawaii product went on to have a stellar six-year career with the 49ers, becoming San Francisco's top kick returner during that period and also becoming a factor in the team's secondary coverage packages and seeing time there as an occasional starter. He returned four punts for touchdowns during his time with the team.
Others considered: None

11TH: OL Jesse Sapolu, 1983. Possibly one of the best 11th-round selections ever by any NFL team, Sapolu moved into the starting lineup in the heyday of the team's dynasty and remained there for more than a decade, becoming a line fixture at both center and guard. Showing his versatility late in his career, the big Samoan made the Pro Bowl as a center in 1993 and at guard in 1994.
Others considered: DB Chet Brooks, 1988

12TH: LB Antonio Goss, 1989. Making the roster of a defending Super Bowl champion as a 12th-round pick was a feat in itself, but Goss went on to become one of the team's better special teams players during his rookie season as the 49ers repeated as NFL champions, and he also contributed as a backup linebacker during six seasons with the team.
Others considered: DE Matt LaBounty, 1992

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