Undoubtedly there are some mis-statements and factual errors to be found, but what we present herein are the original and unedited musings of a lifelong 49er fan looking back on thirty-five years of amazing football, from 1965 to the end of the millennium. This first installment covers the 49ers' first-round draft picks. Enjoy!
THE 49ERS' FIRST-ROUND PICKS 1965-1997
1965 Ken Willard, FB, North Carolina
Willard became the starting fullback almost immediately, and
teamed with newly-acquired halfback John David Crow to give
the Niners a real ground game. In 1968, he gained 967 yards,
and he was the hero of the team's first playoff win in 1970.
Throughout his nine-year career, Willard was strong,
dependable, and versatile. He was no superstar, but he repaid
the team's first-round investment handsomely.
1966 Stan Hindman, DE, Mississippi
Hindman was a good player who started for a few years and
played on the 49ers' first division champion. But his short,
relatively unmemorable career did not live up to the high
standard expected from a first-round pick. The rest of the
'66 draft, however, was one of the 49ers' best ever.
1967 Steve Spurrier, QB, Florida
Cas Banaszek, OL, Northwestern
Banaszek, who gave the team ten outstanding seasons,
rates this first round a solid success. He was a integral
part of that great 49er offensive line in 1970.
Spurrier had brief periods of success amid a mediocre career. The 1966 Heisman winner played generally well in support of Brodie,
but floundered when given the starting job. After a lousy
1975 season, he was claimed by Tampa Bay in the expansion
1968 Forrest Blue, C, Auburn
Though his career was on the short side, especially for a
offensive lineman (seven years), Blue was the best center in
the league for at least half of that time. A great and
1969 Ted Kwalick, TE, Penn State
Gene Washington, WR, Stanford
A fine receiver, Kwalick was considered the best all-around
tight end ever to play college football. He did well in spots
from his rookie year on, but was unable to unseat starter
Bob Windsor until 1972. Though a good player who made a
solid contribution to a winning team, Kwalick never lived up
to expectations and, as a first-round pick, has to rate a
Washington, a favorite target of Heisman-winning QB Jim Plunkett in college, gave John Brodie a legitimate deep threat. This raised the 49er passing game to the same league-leading level it had shown in '65 and '68. Washington was a fixture in the 49er offense through 1976, when he retired due to accumulated injuries aggravated by Candlestick's short-lived, rock-hard artificial turf. As a major catalyst on the franchise's first playoff team, Washington lived up to his high first-round expectations.
A good first round in a outstanding draft.
1970 Cedrick Hardman, DE, North Texas State
Bruce Taylor, CB, Boston University
A titanic first round.
These two rookies solidified the 49er defense, and the team won a division title. Hardman emerged as one of the league's top pass rushers, and started on the defensive line for ten years.
Taylor greatly improved the coverage, complementing All-Pro Jimmy Johnson at the other corner. He tied for the league lead in interceptions as a rookie, and also proved a spectacular and effective punt returner during his memorable eight-year 49er career.
1971 Tim Anderson, CB, Ohio State
A total bust. Anderson, one of the most highly-regarded
collegians and a member of Woody Hayes' Rose Bowl-winning,
'Super Soph' '68 defense that beat USC and O.J. Simpson, held
out for too much money. The 49ers refused to sign him and he
went to Canada. He returned to the NFL in 1975, and played
one undistinguished season in San Francisco.
1972 Terry Beasley, WR, Auburn
Beasley, favorite target of Heisman winner Pat Sullivan at Auburn,
was supposed to team up with Gene Washington to give the 49ers their trademark explosive passing game once again.
He played four seasons without making much impact, and never came close to justifying his first-round status.
1973 Mike Holmes, CB, Texas Southern
You've never heard of him, have you? A pattern began to emerge
here, as draft-day blunders foretold the imminent collapse
of the 49ers. Holmes lasted only two seasons with the team.
1974 Wilbur Jackson, FB, Alabama
Bill Sandifer, DT, UCLA
Jackson gave the 49ers a solid, versatile fullback, very much
in the manner of Ken Willard, whom he replaced, for six
seasons. At his peak, he teamed with Delvin Williams to form
one of the NFL's most productive backfields. His career was
cut short by injuries.
Sandifer played three seasons without ever showing a hint as to why he was drafted this high. The success of this first round is due entirely to Jackson.
1975 Jimmy Webb, DT, Mississippi State
At his peak, Webb was one of the NFL's best defensive
linemen, exactly what the team had hoped it was getting with
Sandifer the previous year. Webb was part of the Niners'
famed 'Gold Rush' in 1976, and started at defensive tackle
for six years.
The 49ers had traded away both of their first-round picks,
plus their first-rounder and a second-rounder the following
year, plus backup quarterback Tom Owen, to New England for
quarterback Jim Plunkett. At the time, it seemed like a
great deal for both teams, but Plunkett's San Francisco
success lasted only half a season. Joe Thomas released him
outright after the '77 campaign; this can safely be called a
wasted draft pick, or picks.
See 1976 comment above.
1978 Ken McAfee, TE, Notre Dame
A celebrated All-American in college, McAfee lacked both
the size necessary to be a good blocker and the speed
required to get open for pass receptions. He was released
during Bill Walsh's first season in 1979. A classic example
of Joe Thomas' inept reign as 49er general manager.
The 49ers had traded this pick, along with five others, to
Buffalo for the legendary halfback O.J. Simpson. It was a
cynical ploy by Joe Thomas to increase attendance while
ignoring the team's future. Simpson, slowed by injury, was
washed up; he played two unremarkable seasons as a 49er and
retired. This was probably the worst misuse of a first-round
pick in team history.
1980 Earl Cooper, FB, Rice
Jim Stuckey, DE, Clemson
Walsh thought he'd gotten a 'steal' with Cooper, his first
first-rounder, whom he expected to boost the 49ers' anemic
running game. Cooper proved a able pass receiver within the
Walsh scheme and set a team record for receptions in '81, but
was wholly unsuited for the bruising duty of a every-down
fullback. A good player who made a solid contribution, Cooper in no way was worthy of a first-round draft choice.
Stuckey started at defensive end for the Super Bowl season of '81. But he never made much of a impact upon the league, and was out of football after three seasons. He's best remembered for recovering Danny White's fumble to seal victory in the 1981NFC Championship Game, but one big play does not a first-rounder make.
1981 Ronnie Lott, DB, Southern California
Lott was selected almost by accident; Walsh had wanted UCLA
safety Kenny Easley, whom Seattle took with the previous
pick. Lott, at cornerback, could well have won the league
MVP trophy as a rookie; his inspired play led the 49er
secondary, the defense, and ultimately the team to a new
level. Lott and his teammates formed, in 1984, the greatest
defensive backfield in NFL history. Switched to free safety
in '85, Lott remained a perennial All-Pro throughout his
49er career which ended, after ten seasons and four Super
Bowls, in 1991. He went on to solidify his Hall of Fame
credentials with the Raiders and the Jets; his 14-year career
is one of the longest ever for a defensive back. With this
pick alone, Walsh proved his draft-day mettle; no one has
ever exemplified the spirit of the 49ers' championship era
better than Ronnie Lott.
Walsh traded this pick to New England for the rights to
tight end Russ Francis, who had threatened retirement if the
woeful Patriots did not trade him. Though he promptly injured
himself and missed the entire '82 season, Francis regained
his form in '83, and in '84 was once again football's premier
tight end. His brilliant play in Super Bowl XIX was a key to
the 49ers' domination, and was probably worth the high price
Walsh paid to get him.
Walsh had traded this pick to San Diego two years earlier for
Fred Dean, the fantastic pass rusher, in a conditional deal.
Dean played about three full seasons for the 49ers-- he
arrived in week six of 1981 and held out the first ten games
of '84-- and during that time he was a dominating force,
perhaps the team's biggest 'impact' player. It's doubtful the
team would have made it to its first Super Bowl without him,
and the value of that first championship is incalculable.
Fred Dean was worth much more to the 49ers than the price
they paid for him.
1984 Todd Shell, LB, Brigham Young
A bust, through no real fault of his own. Shell suffered
major injuries each of his first two seasons and retired from
the game rather than risk permanent spinal damage. Walsh had
been criticized for the pick; Shell was fast but regarded
as undersized. We'll never know.
1985 Jerry Rice, WR, Mississippi Valley State
Not only is Rice as good a draft pick as there ever has been,
but Walsh's bold, daring draft-day dealing, which enabled the
world champion 49ers to move up far enough to snag Rice,
ranks as one of the team's top success stories. As a player,
Rice, like Joe Montana and the legendary Jim Brown, rates
among the game's very greatest. He holds the all-time record
for touchdowns, receiving yards, and total catches, has starred
on three Super Bowl champions, and has set numerous Super Bowl
records. Indeed, Jerry Rice may be the greatest football player ever; and if he is, he's also the greatest first-round draft choice ever.
With superstar 'impact' players at a premium, and none
available at the 49ers' drafting level, Walsh went the other
way, swapping high-round picks for multiple lower-round
picks, and came up with a whole handful of future stars and
starters. If Rice's selection wasn't Walsh's crowning
draft-day achievement, this incredibly deep rookie crop was.
1987 Harris Barton, T, North Carolina
Terrence Flagler, RB, North Carolina
Acting with his usual foresight, Walsh selected All-Pro
tackle Keith Fahnhorst's replacement a year early. Barton
moved into the starting right tackle spot in '88, and
remained there for a decade. A year-in, year-out performer,
he won three Super Bowl rings.
As for Flagler, he was going to be the next Wendell Tyler,
but instead became the next Derrick Harmon: he was traded
after two unremarkable seasons.
Walsh's last first-round pick went to Tampa Bay for Steve
Young, eventual heir to Joe Montana. We trust you know the
rest of the story.
1989 Keith DeLong, LB, Tennessee
DeLong was projected to replace veteran Matt Millen and
carry on the team's tradition of tough inside 'backers,
beginning with fellow Vol alumnus Jack 'Hacksaw' Reynolds
and continuing with Riki Ellison and Millen. Despite his
blue-chip credentials, DeLong had only one outstanding year,
1991, before injuries and a ill-timed holdout rendered him
suddenly expendable. He was gone after 1992, and this pick
therefore has to be considered a disappointment.
1990 Dexter Carter, HB, Florida State
Coach Seifert obviously believed that the two-time defending
world champion Niners only needed a little fine-tuning in
order to 'three-peat'. Carter was expected to step in and
contribute in the manner of the Giants' Dave Meggett-- as a
quick, flashy kick returner and third-down back. But the
sudden void at halfback in 1991 led to Carter's role as
full-time starter, and he proved unable to measure up. He
made a solid part-time contribution as a kick returner for
five years, but was hardly worth a first-round pick.
1991 Ted Washington, DT, Louisville
The team's biggest first-round bust in over a decade. Slowed
by weight problems, attendant minor injuries, and a surly
demeanor, Washington lasted three undistinguished seasons
before being traded to Denver in '94 for a low draft choice.
(He since resurrected his career, admirably, in Buffalo.)
1992 Dana Hall, DB, Washington
His stock had shot up after his excellent coverage against
Heisman winner Desmond Howard in the '92 Rose Bowl. But as a
safety, Hall proved a slow learner and a tepid hitter. The
added pressure of replacing legendary Ronnie Lott proved to
be too much, and after two up-and-down seasons Hall was
limited to third-string 'dime' duty in '94, and then
released. A definite bust.
1993 Dana Stubblefield, DT, Kansas
Todd Kelly, DE, Tennessee
Stubblefield stepped right in as a rookie and played well as
the team shifted from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense. By his third
season, he had reached Pro Bowl status. His great success
overshadowed the disappointment of Kelly, who came aboard
with a great reputation as a pass rusher but did little in
two years. Regardless, Stubblefield alone rates this pick a
1994 Bryant Young, DT, Notre Dame
William Floyd, FB, Florida State
This may go down with '81 and '85 as one of the 49ers' best
first rounds ever. Seifert and team president Carmen Policy
traded up to get the seventh pick in the entire draft-- the
team's highest pick in over a decade-- and took Young. He
teamed up with Stubblefield to form a great defensive
interior line in '94, and remained one of the top defensive
players in the league.
Floyd was so good he cracked the starting lineup by midseason and emerged as a team leader by year's end. He was tabbed as the next great NFL fullback until a serious knee injury in 1995 sidetracked his career; he was traded to Carolina in 1997, where he has been a solid but unspectacular player.
1995 J.J. Stokes, WR, UCLA
The 49ers gave up four draft picks to move up and select Stokes, the big and powerful All-American. Often compared to Jerry Rice in terms of physical attributes and potential, Stokes never developed into a big-time receiver. A reliable starter and nothing more, he wasn't worth one first-round pick, let alone two.
San Francisco gave up this first-round pick as part of
the J.J. Stokes deal in '95.
1997 Jim Druckenmiller, QB, Virginia Tech
A big fat bust. Designated as the heir to Montana and Young, the
tall (6-5) Druckenmiller started one game in 1997. Over the next
two years he made little progress and was finally dealt to Miami
for a sixth-round pick prior to the 1999 season.