Who is the all-time best draft pick in San Francisco 49ers history? Of all the men drafted since the 49ers were born in 1946, which one has done the most for the organization on and off of the field?
The man who has is hall of fame defensive back Ronnie Lott.
Some could make the argument for quarterback Joe Montana. He was drafted by the Niners in 1979 and led them to four Super Bowl victories. Without Montana there is no question that the team would not have enjoyed the success that it did in the 1980’s. However, San Francisco’s success did not begin until 1981 when they acquired arguably the best defensive player in team history in Lott.
Lott came to the 49ers as a number one pick out of the University of Southern California, the eighth player drafted overall. San Francisco went into the draft looking to shore up their secondary. Head coach Bill Walsh selected three defensive backs in Lott, Carlton Williamson and Lynn Thomas. All three made the starting lineup as rookies and along with Dwight Hicks formed a unit which helped the 49ers to win their first Super Bowl.
Lott was a safety at USC, but the team moved him to cornerback where he did not disappoint as he beat out New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Lott intercepted seven passes and scored four defensive touchdowns. He also scored on an interception in his first post season game.
Lott would end up playing every position in the secondary during his career, but is best known for his work at free safety. He was an intimidating hitter and one of the best ball hawks in the history of the game. It was a hit by Lott on Cincinnati Bengals running back Ickey Woods in Super Bowl XXIII that many say turned the game around.
Lott was one of the most intense players in the game and a team leader. There was never a time when he was not prepared to play. Unlike most rookies, Lott took a leadership roll on the 49ers right away and earned the respect of his teammates immediately. His attitude was simply that he would not accept losing. He had never lost before coming to San Francisco and did not intend to begin there.
Lott elevated the play of his teammates and led by word and deed. He talked the talk and backed it up on Sunday. After getting a finger crushed between two helmets in a 1986 game against the Dallas Cowboys, Lott had doctors amputate the tip instead of putting it in a cast.
Though he did not finish his career with San Francisco, Lott was there for all four of the Super Bowl titles in the 1980’s. It was his attitude and work ethic which made the 49ers defense of that era one of the games best. He was the centerpiece to one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history.
The best draft pick in San Francisco 49ers history is Ronnie Lott.