In late September, the NFL Network announced plans to unveil their Top 100 NFL players of all time. They released their first fifty players and the only 49ers representative was Steve Young, ranked #81. I think that ranking is a bit low, and fans seemed to agree as they ranked Steve Young #13. I don't know if Steve Young is the 13th best player in NFL history, but I do see his combination of skills and production as sufficient to rate higher than 81st.
While the list was light on 49ers early on, our favorite team closed incredibly strong (thanks to everybody who posted FanShots recently about this list). The 49ers managed to score three of the top eleven players in this list (some video posted after the jump):
#1 - Jerry Rice
#4 - Joe Montana
#11 - Ronnie Lott
When talking about all-time greats, every sport has its own little problems. Every sport has had eras of inflated and deflated statistics for one reason or another. Of all the sports, I'd argue none has had as many significant rule changes during its history as football. Just the addition of the forward pass changed everything in the game. And for football as much as anything else, when you consider the changes in physical fitness and salaries allowing players to now spend all their the focusing on the game it's really quite hard to make comparisons.
A lot of folks also view Jim Brown as the mythical "greatest football player of all time." I think you could make an argument for Brown, but there are plenty of arguments for Jerry Rice's inclusion at the #1 spot. The Big Lead put together a great list of pros for Rice's ranking at #1:
Pros: Just about everything. Chase Stuart did a great writeup on Rice before the Hall of Fame selections. For touching the ball less than a running back, he surpassed everyone of them in yards from scrimmage. He holds the touchdown record. He holds just about every record. You can divide his career in two parts and produce two Hall of Fame careers. If you look at just his games with guys named Grbac, Moroski, Bono, Cavanaugh and Kemp at quarterback, and prorate it to a single season, you get 1451 yards and 16 td's, or as Chase puts it, "the career best season for nearly every WR who has ever played the game. And, of course, only 25% of those games came during what we would typically call a "wide receiver's prime."
Jerry Rice's dominance was as great as anybody we've seen. I'm not saying he's a 100% clear-cut #1, but he has as good an argument as anybody.
#1 Jerry Rice
#4 Joe Montana
#11 Ronnie Lott