With the 65th pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers selected Frank Gore, the running back out of the University of Miami. Gore wasted little time becoming the man in the San Fran backfield, earning his first Pro Bowl bid in only his second year with 1,695 yards and 8 touchdowns. Rushing for 1,000 yards grew to be something expected of Gore, as he surpassed the century mark in 8 of his 10 seasons. The only seasons he failed to reach 1,000 yards rushing were his rookie season and an injury riddled 2010 campaign in which he put up 853 yards in 11 games. Gore’s bruising run style earned him 5 Pro Bowl bids and entrance into the 10,000 yards club as he won over the 49er faithful and quickly emerged as a fan favorite. Gore is the 49ers all time leading rusher and that feat should stand for quite some time. However, it seems as the longtime Niner’s tenure in San Francisco is ending, as he is expected to sign elsewhere in free agency.
With the 11th pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, the 49ers selected linebacker Patrick Willis out of Ole Miss. Willis has been an absolute machine throughout his career, taking the league by storm and emerging as a star from day one. Willis’ warrior mentality on the field and desire to win won fans over quickly, just like Gore had won them over recently. Willis has led a fearsome 49er defense for years and is undoubtedly one of the most feared defenders in the league. Willis earned a bid to the Pro Bowl in his first 7 seasons in the league, also earning All Pro First Team honors 5 out of 7 of these seasons. Willis was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2007, led the league in tackles in 2007 and 2009, and was the NFL Alumni Linebacker of the year in 2007, 2009 and 2010. Willis’ dominance is unquestionable, however this past season he struggled with injuries and was limited to only 6 games. To the shock of everyone, Willis announced his retirement from the league.
Former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was hired in 2011 and turned the team into a contender in his first season while winning the NFL Coach of the Year award. Harbaugh made the playoffs in his first three seasons as coach, including two trips to the NFC Championship and one Super Bowl bid in 2012, where they fell to the Baltimore Ravens. After a rough 2014 season in which the team went 8-8 and missed out on the playoffs Harbaugh was fired and left for Michigan.
Three of the primary contributors to the 49ers success and fan favorites will all be moving on from the 49ers faithful next year, onto their next endeavors. These three aren’t the only ones on their way out either. Longtime 49er DL Justin Smith is strongly considering retirement and is expected to make his decision next week. Smith joined the 49ers via free agency in 2008 and notched 5 straight Pro Bowl appearances from 2009-2013 and earned 3x All Pro Honors. The fan favorite lead the defense with Willis and was considered the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year by Sports Illustrated and Pro Football Focus. First round draft picks WR Michael Crabtree (Pick 10, 2009) and OL Mike Iupati (Pick 17, 2010) are also expected to be on the way out. The 3x Pro Bowl OL Mike Iupati is rumored to be signing with the Cardinals and Crabtree is expected to sign elsewhere.
Times are certainly changing for the 49ers and the future is very cloudy, leaving fans puzzled on what to expect this upcoming year. They will need some of the younger players such as Carlos Hyde and Chris Borland to fill in for departing veterans and will look to fill other holes via free agency, as ex Ravens WR Torrey Smith is expected to join the Niners this offseason.
We may not know what to expect from the 49ers, but we certainly know this is the beginning of a new era in San Francisco.