SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Jerry Rice likes to call himself the G.O.A.T., but it says here he is merely the G.R.O.A.T, the greatest receiver of all time. And someone had to throw him the ball, right? True, it’s a symbiotic relationship, but Joe Montana playing the most important position in team sports gives him the nod as the San Francisco 49ers' best draft pick.
Why Montana is best draft pick in 49ers history: The numbers speak for themselves, and they start with the added value of being a relatively low pick: the final selection of the third round in 1979. A four-time Super Bowl champ. Three times the Super Bowl MVP. Two NFL MVPs. A comeback player of the year award. Eight Pro Bowl selections. As noted above, Montana gets the nod over Rice in part because of the rings -- four to three -- but mostly because of the positions. Yes, a receiver can make a QB look good, but someone has to throw him the ball. And the ball is in a quarterback’s hands on every offensive snap. Plus, Montana, along with coach Bill Walsh, revolutionized the game with the West Coast offense. Rice might have elevated things, but he also was the beneficiary of Montana being there first.
Jerry Rice, WR: Relatively unknown as the No. 16 overall pick out of Mississippi Valley State in 1985, Rice took the league by storm and kept doing it through the 2004 season, though he left San Francisco for the Oakland Raiders in 2001. By the time he was done, Rice had caught 1,549 passes for 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns and went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
Ronnie Lott, DB: The 49ers’ first-round pick in 1981, No. 8 overall, changed the culture of the team’s defense, which helped the franchise to its first Super Bowl title following Lott's rookie season. One of the more ferocious hitters in league history, Lott played cornerback and safety for the Niners during a 10-year run before playing two years with the Los Angeles Raiders and two more with the New York Jets. But it was in San Francisco where he helped the team win four Super Bowl championships on his way to his induction in Canton in 2000.
Bob St. Clair, OT: At 6-foot-9, 265 pounds, St. Clair was huge for his time. He was also a Bay Area original with a personality as large as the imposing figure he cut. St. Clair, who made eating raw meat fashionable, was the Niners’ third-round draft pick in 1953. He also dabbled on defense and blocked 10 field goals in 1956. He was selected for Hall enshrinement in 1990.
Charles Haley, DE: Haley was so disruptive and dominant that the first of the 49ers' three fourth-round picks in 1986 saw a new “elephant” defensive end/linebacker hybrid position created for him. And his trade from the 49ers to the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 shifted the balance of power not only in the NFC, but also the entire NFL. Haley finally received his Canton call in 2015.
John Brodie, QB: The Niners’ first-round pick, No. 3 overall, in 1957, Brodie was what you might call a late bloomer. He was not named to the first of his two Pro Bowls until 1965 and was the NFL MVP in 1970, when he led the league with 2,941 passing yards and 24 TD passes. A Pro Football Hall of Fame campaign is picking up steam in the Bay Area.