After a month of draft busts and successes, we've finally reached the top of the heap. My choice for the 49ers number one draft success since the 1990 NFL Draft. As I've mentioned elsewhere, it was a weak oversight on my part that I did not include 49ers great Bryant Young on this list. We'll be doing a community version of this if the lockout drags into May and June, so you'll get a chance to right this wrong at that point. In the meantime, on to the number one draft success.
For 49ers fans, the 2005 NFL Draft is generally remembered for the selection of Alex Smith with the number one overall pick. However, their third round selection worked out OK I'd say. The 49ers used their third round pick (65th overall) to select running back Frank Gore out of the University of Miami. I actually still remember walking in to work the following Monday and a friend asked me about my thoughts on the draft (pre-NN and I was still the go-to guy!). I remember saying I was pretty excited about the Gore pick in large part because I remembered that when healthy he was a big dog in the Miami backfield.
For those that don't pay a ton of attention to college football, it's worth noting that Frank Gore was a true freshman on the Miami Hurricanes 2001 national championship team. He was named Big East Freshman of the Year after rushing for 575 yards on 62 carries (9.1 yards per rush!). That national title team included Gore, Willis McGahee, starting RB Clinton Portis, Andre Johnson, OT Bryant McKinnie, Ed Reed, Phillip Buchanon, Sean Taylor, Antrel Rolle, Jeremy Shockey, and Jonathan Vilma, among others. While this particular link is from a Hurricanes fan site, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that 2001 team is in the discussion for greatest collection of talent ever.
I bring that up because Frank Gore was well on his way to becoming a first round pick after that 2001 campaign, but blew out both knees over the course of his college career. Prior to his first knee injury he had beaten out Willis McGahee for the starting running back job. Injuries happen in football so you can't really make excuses, but that shows what kind of track Gore was on in college.
When the 49ers drafted him, I was excited but wasn't sure what to expect given the surgery on both wheels. Aside from what he'd produce, I was definitely concerned about future injuries. His rookie season he was quite solid, rushing for 608 yards at a 4.8 clip. He actually led the team in rushing even though Kevan Barlow received 49 more carries. The writing was on the wall that Frank The Tank was taking over.
In 2006, Gore showed exactly what he was capable of as he set the franchise rushing record with 1,695 yards. He received a lot of help from arguably the best 49ers offensive line of the last seven or eight years, but given the "developing" passing game, Gore showed how good he could be. That season he was named second team All-Pro and earned a spot in the Pro Bowl.
Since then he's earned a second Pro Bowl nod, and prior to his hip injury this year, he set the franchise record for consecutive 1,000 yard seasons. From what I hear he's ahead of pace on his hip rehab and assuming the NFL gets going sooner rather than later, Gore should surpass Roger Craig for number two on the franchise all-time rushing list. Gore is a free agent after this coming but if the 49ers re-sign him and If he can remain healthy for another couple seasons, Gore should surpass Joe Perry sometime in 2012 for the franchise rushing record.
While I'm not prepared to proclaim the greatest running back in 49ers history, he's certainly moved himself closer to the conversation, if not actually into the discussion. He's put up great numbers behind a mixed bag of offenses and has only dealt with one significant in-season injury during his time with the 49ers. Considering what he's done as a third round pick, I'm comfortable proclaiming him the 49ers biggest draft success since 1990.
49ers Top 10 NFL Draft Successess
1. Frank Gore - 2005 NFL Draft
2. Merton Hanks - 1991 NFL Draft
3. Patrick Willis - 2007 NFL Draft
4. Terrell Owens - 1996 NFL Draft
5. Eric Heitmann - 2002 NFL Draft
6. Fred Beasley - 1998 NFL Draft
7. Jeremy Newberry - 1998 NFL Draft
8. Lee Woodall - 1994 NFL Draft
9. Arnaz Battle - 2003 NFL Draft
10. Andy Lee, Punter - 2004 NFL Draft
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