Only one other team has won more Super Bowls than the San Francisco 49ers. Because quarterbacks are so important, it is no wonder the 49ers have benefited from successful play at the position throughout their storied history. Everybody recognizes the greatness of Joe Montana, but there have been several other 49ers quarterbacks worthy of discussion. Ranking the top ten quarterbacks in franchise history will show how they stack up against each other.
The Top Ten Quarterbacks in San Francisco 49ers History
10. Jim Plunkett
Jim Plunkett won two Super Bowls for a Bay area team. However, those rings were won when he played for the Oakland Raiders. Plunkett, acquired via trade with the New England Patriots in 1957, only played two years for the 49ers. In those years, he wasn’t very good. He was eventually released, and signed by the Raiders. As the first ever Latino quarterback to win a championship, he enjoyed great success, and he belongs in the Hall of Fame. His achievements with the Raiders make him more qualified than all omitted quarterbacks, earning him the tenth spot on this ranking.
9. Steve DeBerg
Steve DeBerg started his career with the 49ers in 1978, which was Bill Walsh’s first year as head coach. DeBerg was the first quarterback Walsh selected to run his offense in San Francisco. The 49ers were dreadful under DeBerg. He was 7-28 as the starter, and eventually was replaced by Joe Montana. DeBerg did have personal success in his three years in San Francisco, leading the league in completions in 1979. DeBerg spent most of his career as a backup. His success in the West Coast Offense under Walsh makes him the ninth quarterback on this ranking.
8. Alex Smith
Selected with the number one overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft from Utah, Alex Smith was billed as the next great 49ers quarterback. However, he didn’t get his career going in a positive direction until Jim Harbaugh became the 49ers head coach. Under Harbaugh, Smith led the 49ers to a 13-3 record, and ended their playoff drought. In the divisional round of the playoffs, Smith twice gave the 49ers the lead late in the game. He scored on a 28 yard bootleg run, and then followed that up with a 14 yard game winning pass to Vernon Davis. Smith did not achieve sustained success with the 49ers, but he did enough to warrant the eighth spot on this ranking.
7. Jeff Garcia
Achieving great success in the Canadian Football League, Jeff Garcia joined the 49ers to serve as their backup. After a career-ending injury to Steve Young, Garcia took over as the starter. In his first full season in 2000, Garcia was incredible, throwing 31 touchdown passes. The next season, he became one of only ten quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for 30 touchdowns in back to back seasons. He also led the 49ers to the largest playoff comeback in NFL history, rallying back from down 38-14 to win 39-38. After three stellar seasons, Garcia regressed, eventually bouncing around the league. Garcia’s brief success land him the seventh spot on this ranking
6. Colin Kaepernick
Whatever is said about Colin Kaepernick off the field, there is no denying his success on the field, however brief it ended up being. Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith midway through the 2012 season. That year, he helped the 49ers make the sixth Super Bowl in franchise history, and was within five yards of winning it. His first year as a full-time starter resulted in an NFC Championship berth. Kaepernick holds the record for most rushing yards in a game by a quarterback, torching the Green Bay Packers for 181 yards. His ability to run and his rocket for an arm prompted ESPN Analyst Ron Jaworski to state he could be the greatest quarterback of all time. While Kaepernick has regressed, he briefly was one of the most feared quarterbacks in the NFL, good enough for sixth on this ranking.
5. Frankie Albert
Frankie Albert holds the distinction of playing on the first ever 49ers team. The 1946 49ers were the first ever professional team in San Francisco. Albert played seven seasons for the 49ers. He was a short and shifty left handed quarterback. In spite of his size, he achieved great success by running the bootleg, which he made famous. Albert, along with Otto Graham of the Cleveland Browns, was named 1948 AAFC Co-MVP. The 49ers were fortunate to start their franchise with the fifth best quarterback on this ranking.
4. Y.A. Tittle
The first professional football player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Y.A. Tittle quarterbacked the 49ers for ten seasons. After previously playing for the Baltimore Colts, Tittle was able to be selected third overall in the 1951 NFL draft after the Colts franchise disbanded. In a time before the NFL MVP was an award, Tittle won the 1955 NFL Player of the Year award. Tittle’s play for the 49ers was stellar, but most of his success came in the four years after he was traded to the New York Giants. In those four seasons, he won three MVPs and led the Giants to three NFL Championship appearances. Tittle is best remembered for a photo taken in his final season, showing him kneeling and bloodied.
3. John Brodie
With the average career length of NFL players being 3.3 years, it is truly remarkable that John Brodie was able to play 17 seasons with the 49ers. After being selected third overall in the 1957 NFL draft, Brodie led the league in passing yards three times. Brodie is one of only three 49ers quarterbacks to have won an NFL MVP award. Despite all his personal success, Brodie and the 49ers lost more games than they won, and only managed to make the playoffs three times. Had Brodie had more team success, he would higher on this ranking.
2. Steve Young
If Steve Young played for another franchise, he more than likely would hold the top spot for that franchise. After several years with Tampa Bay, the 49ers traded for Young. As the backup to Joe Montana, Young learned and mastered the West Coast Offense. Once Montana was traded to Kansas City, the reins were fully given to Young, and he did not disappoint. Young won two MVP awards, and threw a record six touchdown passes in a Super Bowl XXIX victory. Young is one of the best examples of a dual-threat quarterback. He finished in the top five in passing yards in five different seasons, but his most iconic play was a 49 yard touchdown run that gave the 49ers a victory against the Minnesota Vikings. If not for the number one quarterback, Steve Young would be a deserving choice for the top spot.
1. Joe Montana
Arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time, Joe Montana is an easy choice for the number one spot. Montana was the perfect fit to run Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense. Selected in the third round from Notre Dame in 1979, Montana helped transition the lowly 49ers into a dynasty. Throughout his time in San Francisco, he led the 49ers to four Super Bowl victories, collecting three Super Bowl MVPs. In those Super Bowls, Montana bested all time greats in John Elway, Dan Marino, and Boomer Esiason. He is also the author of one of the most iconic moments in NFL history: The Catch. While the 49ers have had excellent quarterbacks throughout their history, Joe Montana is the crown jewel.