While deciding on the next position, I looked over the various options and thought tight end seemed as good a place to go to next as any. In the short passing game of the West Coast offense, the tight end proved quite important and since then the league has seen an expansion of the tight end to elite athletic levels.
However, while looking through the 49ers history, I noticed that there really haven't been that many great tight ends wearing the red, white and gold. As I've said repeatedly, I think Vernon Davis will reach that elite level at some point, but until then, the competition at the all-time TE position is scarce. Accordingly, I've decided to not even hold a vote. Simply put, Brent Jones is the best tight end in 49ers history and it's not all that close. Jones leads all 49ers tight ends in receptions, yards, touchdowns and Pro Bowl appearances and ranks in the top among all 49ers receivers in receptions, yards and touchdowns.
While Jones was never overrated as a tight end, I don't think he would qualify as underrated. I can't imagine anybody not recognizing the talent of Brent Jones and his major contributions during the 49ers glory days. He earned 3 Super Bowl rings and made four trips to the Pro Bowl. The 49ers had great receivers in Rice and Taylor and a great rushing/receiving threat in Roger Craig, but the importance of Jones to the West Coast offense is considerable. Throw in a streak of 125 consecutive games and you've got not only a franchise great, but an all-time great.
Honorable Mentions: Like I said, there is not a lot in the way of tight end talent in 49ers history. Ted Kwalick was a 3-time Pro Bowler at tight end in the early 70s, while Russ Francis was the primary TE and immediate predecessor of Brent Jones. I really thought Eric Johnson might have worked his way onto this type of list, but injuries have derailed him and now he's off in New Orleans. If Vernon Davis can continue to improve (he did improve his receptions and yards from year 1 to year 2), I don't see why he won't pass Brent Jones in the 49ers record books. Davis is a receiving tight end who is immensely athletic and could become the primary target of Smith/Hill/whomever. But that's an argument for another day.