5 Best San Francisco 49ers Running Backs Of All-Time

San Francisco 49ers
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The San Francisco 49ers are one of the most storied franchises in the entire NFL. Over the years, they have seen multiple all-time greats and Hall of Famers play for them.

Looking at this article, we’re going to rank the top five running backs to every play for the 49ers.

The battle for supremacy atop the roster of the finest 49ers running backs in history is fiercely contested. Delving into the annals of the franchise, we encounter esteemed figures such as Hall of Famers Hugh McElhenny and Joe Perry. Transitioning to the golden era of Joe Montana‘s reign, the spotlight falls on Roger Craig. And as we navigate through the modern era of the 21st century, the indomitable presence of Frank Gore looms large.

Let’s go ahead and take a look at the five best running backs in 49ers’ franchise history.

5. Ricky Watters, 1992-1994

Ricky Watters, the former running back for the San Francisco 49ers, may have only spent three seasons in the Bay Area, but his impact was undeniable.

As a second-round pick, Watters burst onto the scene with three consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, showcasing his talent and versatility, especially during the standout 1994 season where he amassed an impressive 1596 total yards.

Watters’ dominance wasn’t confined to the regular season; he truly shone in the postseason for the 49ers. During the 1993 playoffs, he left a trail of destruction with an astounding six rushing touchdowns in just two games, with five of those coming against the New York Giants.

Throughout his seven playoff appearances with San Francisco, Watters tallied an impressive 10 touchdowns, including a memorable three-touchdown performance in Super Bowl XXIX.

4. Garrison Hearst, 1997-2003

Former San Francisco 49ers running back Garrison Hearst’s tenure with the team was marked by both remarkable success and significant challenges.

Despite missing the 1999 and 2000 seasons due to a severe ankle injury, Hearst showcased his exceptional talent in the seasons leading up to his setback. Particularly notable was his outstanding performance during the 1998 season, where he amassed an impressive 1570 rushing yards, earning him a spot in the Pro Bowl.

Undeterred by his injury, Hearst staged a remarkable comeback in 2001, earning the prestigious NFL Comeback Player of the Year award. His exceptional form saw him rush for 1206 yards, securing his second Pro Bowl appearance. Despite ongoing effectiveness in the subsequent seasons of 2002 and 2003, the team eventually decided to part ways with him.

Hearst’s contribution to the franchise cannot be overstated, as evidenced by his ranking as the fifth-highest rusher in the team’s history. His resilience and stellar performances continue to be celebrated among fans and colleagues alike.

3. Joe Perry, 1948-1960, 1963

Next up on the list is Joe “The Jet” Perry, who comes in at No. 3 in our rankings.

He was one of the top early stars of the NFL. He also retired as the league’s all-time leading rusher in 1963. He put together quite a few massive years, leading the NFL in rushing yards two times, in rushing scores on three occasions, and he also ended up winning the 1954 NFL MVP award.

He was a two-time First-Team All-Pro and also made the 195’s All-Decade team. Teammate Hugh McElhenny also made that team. In franchise history, Perry still has the second-most yards on the ground. He was also rewarded by being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

2. Roger Craig, 1983-1990

Former San Francisco 49ers running back Roger Craig was an integral part of the most successful era in the franchise’s history. As a three-time Super Bowl champion, Craig played a vital role in the team’s victories, earning recognition with four Pro Bowl selections and one First-team All-Pro nod.

His standout season came in 1988, where Craig’s dominance on the field led to him being awarded the NFL Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for an impressive 1502 yards. However, it could be argued that his most remarkable year was in 1985 when Craig achieved a historic milestone, becoming the first player in NFL history to amass over 1000 rushing and receiving yards in a single season.

Recognized for his exceptional talent and contributions to the sport, Craig was named a member of the NFL’s 1980s All-Decade Team and currently holds the distinction of having the third most rushing yards in the franchise’s history.

1. Frank Gore, 2005-2014

The title of the best running back in San Francisco 49ers history undoubtedly belongs to the dependable Frank Gore.

Although he might not be destined for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, his tenure in the Bay Area is nothing short of remarkable:

  • Achieved 1000+ rushing yards in eight out of ten seasons.
  • Earned five Pro Bowl selections.
  • Notched an impressive 2189 yards along with a Second-team All-Pro recognition in 2006.
  • Holds the franchise record for rushing yards, surpassing the previous record by over 2000 yards.

Gore endeared himself to San Francisco 49ers fans with his unwavering consistency throughout his career.

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