Joe Montana is the 5th-Best Niner Ever?

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey everyone...I'll be getting my WR/TE review post up later today, but, given that I'm behind schedule the past few days, just wanted to post something in the meantime so you at least have something stat-related to chew on.


On Monday, Chase Stuart at the pro-football-reference.com blog posted a piece discussing the best players in Chargers franchise history according to PFR's player-season evaluation statistic, Approximate Value (AV). Without going into the gory methodological details, AV basically does the following:

  1. Based on their statistical performance compared to the league average, assign points to the OFF and DEF for a given team in a given year.
  2. Based on the % contribution of each position on OFF and DEF, distribute the assigned points among the team's players based on each players' stats.

What results is a number, usually between 1 and 20, that tells you how good any player was in any given season compared to others at his position that season. PFR fully admits AV is not a be-all-and-end-all stat, so please don't litter the comments with "stats are BS," or "AV is BS because they used method X to come up with it." AV is just supposed to be a general idea, not some kind of scientifically reliable measure like atomic weight.

Anyway, Stuart's post gave me an idea. What does AV have to say about the best Niners ever? To answer this, I did essentially the same thing he did: used PFR's play index to obtain a list of the highest Career AVs among current and former 49ers, using only the seasons they played with the team. The results surprised me in certain respects (See headline of this post).

After the jump, I detail the surprising results...

If you want to see the full rankings (aka my search result), click here. To focus things, though, here's the Top 10 49ers in franchise history according to Career AV as a Niner:

Rk Player From To G GS Pro Bowls 1st-Tm All-Pro AV
1 Jerry Rice* 1985 2000 238 224 12 10 215
2 Steve Young* 1987 1999 150 124 7 3 158
3 Leo Nomellini* 1950 1963 174 166 10 6 153
4 Jimmy Johnson* 1961 1976 213 199 5 4 148
5 Joe Montana* 1979 1992 167 139 7 3 146
6 Ronnie Lott* 1981 1990 129 126 9 5 125
7 Bryant Young 1994 2007 208 208 4 1 123
8 John Brodie 1957 1973 201 159 2 1 119
9 Charlie Krueger 1959 1973 198 168 2 0 113
10 Dave Wilcox* 1964 1974 153 132 7 2 111
* = Hall of Famer
 

Overall, I don't think the list is actually that far off from what many of us on NN would identify as a Top 10 Niners of All-Time. They might not be in this order, and guys like Roger Craig might deserve to be on the list in place of someone who already is, but identifying these 10 players doesn't strike me as all that objectionable.

What is completely shocking to me is that Joe Montana, who many regard as the greatest player in the history of the NFL's most important position, is ranked #5 according to AV. Furthermore, AV shows that Steve Young actually had a better individual Niner career than did Montana, at least statistically.

Like I said, this is a short post to whet your appetite for stats, so I'm not going to discuss this at length. So, instead of that, let's open it up for discussion. What do you think of this list? Also, if you click on the link to the full list, what are your thoughts about other players on the larger list? Is Roger Craig too low? Is Randy Cross too high? Comment away!

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