Best Draft of the Decade (1980s)

Here’s the second installment of our five-part series looking back at the best drafts by a team each decade.

Last week, we highlighted the 1974 draft of the Pittsburgh Steelers and their Hall of Fame selections of wide receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, middle linebacker Jack Lambert and center Mike Webster.

Now for our purposes, it is now 10 years later and we’ll be picking another outstanding class from another franchise.

And this week, we aren’t sweating our choice when it comes to the ‘80s.

1986 San Francisco 49ers

You could give the San Francisco 49ers organization for stocking their team with plenty of players that could contribute to a few more Super Bowl titles.

Of course, you can add some assists to the Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins.

The Niners traded out of the first round twice, first with the Cowboys and later with the Bills. More deals with the aforementioned clubs ensued and when it was all said and done, Bill Walsh’s club would select just 13 players (just one more than in a standard 12-round draft) but seven of those picks came in the first four rounds.

John Taylor San Francisco 49ersIt began with defensive end Larry Roberts (Alabama) and was followed by three picks in the third round in fullback Tom Rathman (Nebraska), cornerback Tim McKyer (Texas-Arlington) and wide receiver John Taylor (Delaware State).

That threesome was followed by another trio in the fourth round in defensive end Charles Haley (James Madison), tackle Steve Wallace (Auburn) and defensive end Kevin Fagan (Miami, Fla.). In the sixth round, San Francisco added cornerback Don Griffin from Middle Tennessee State.

All told, each of these seven players played in at least two Super Bowls (XXIII and XXIV) for the franchise. In the case of both Taylor (who ended Joe Montana’s long game-winning drive with the deciding score against the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII) and Wallace, they were also around for the team’s fifth Lombardi Trophy when quarterback Steve Young and company rolled the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX.

Elsewhere, while Haley won two rings with the 49ers, he would be dealt to the Cowboys in 1992 and won three more championships with head coaches Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer in Dallas. He remains the only player in league history to win five Super Bowl titles.

When you add this kind of talent to a team that had won two of the previous five Super Bowls (XVI and XIX), strike gold in the first round in 1985 with the selection of wide receiver Jerry Rice and add Young via a trade from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in ’87, you can see why this franchise suffered through only one losing season from 1981-98, won a total of five Super Bowls and totaled at least 10 wins in 17 of those 18 campaigns.

While other drafts in history are often mentioned as the greatest ever, the 49ers’ class of 1986 gets sometimes lost in the conversation.

Of course, talk is cheap when it compares to winning titles.

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