Sometimes you want to do everything you can to stay original, and sometimes a great idea comes along that you just have to steal. This is one of those posts where I’m blatantly taking an idea and using it here on BASG. Deadspin recently ran a column written by Jeff Pearlman listing the 100 worst players in NFL history.
(Here’s Part 2, which includes #’s 1-10)
A few 49ers were mentioned on this list, but not enough. Watching the 49ers since the early 1980’s, we’ve seen more than our share of Hall of Famers, great players and solid performers. But there have been some major disappointments, which is where I come in. And for this list of crappy Niners, I’m going to use the stipulations that Pearlman worked under:
The base criteria is simple: You had to have been a very bad NFL player. That alone, however, is too easy. The league is filled with subpar performers who last a game or two, then vanish for eternity. (Where have you gone, Onzy Elam?) Here, not only do the candidates have to be bad; they have to be bad and of consequence. A high draft pick who flopped miserably (Ryan Leaf, No. 6). A starting cornerback who was regularly abused by opposing quarterbacks (Curtis DeLoatch, No. 53). A backup signal caller who was asked to save his team but could barely complete a forward pass (Babe Laufenberg, No. 3). A field-goal kicker who, literally, couldn’t kick a field goal (Bob Timberlake, No. 2).
So you won’t see any 49ers who bounced on and off the team and/or practice squad or had injury-plagued careers, and since I didn’t watch much if any football before 1984, none of the players from before then will be listed (sorry, Steve Spurrier). We’re not focusing quite as much on raw football talent (although that does factor in); this list is based on expectations and/or how much each player annoyed the fanbase. Here’s Part 1, Part 2 will be coming shortly.
20. Mike Cofer: The epitome of the Niners’ long-held belief that as long as you have an incredible offense and a dominant defense, you didn’t need a good kicker. Cofer was named 1st Team All Pro in 1989, which pretty much sabotages my reasoning for putting him on this list … until you see what he did over the next four years: only made 72-of-117 field goals (61.5%), including making only 50% of his FG (14-of-28) in 1991 — 3-of-10 from 30-39 yards. How he kept his job as long as he did was proof that special teams were pretty much ignored during the George Seifert era.
19. Alex Smith: Poor play. Excuses. Injuries. Excuses. Coaching changes. Excuses. Poor play. He isn’t the worst starting quarterback the 49ers have ever had, but he’s probably caused the most grief due to being drafted No. 1 overall and how many chances he’s received. Smith and Aaron Rodgers will forever be linked, to the dismay of 49ers fans everywhere.
18. Renaldo Nehemiah: Proof that even Bill Walsh could out-think himself from time to time. Nehemiah was Willie Gault before Willie Gault existed — a track star who attempted to play wide receiver. He dominated the 110M hurdles (holding the World Record at one point), but his football career was more hype than substance. In 40 games he caught 43 passes for 754 yards and 4 TD. Not awful numbers, but I’ll always remember how my dad would tell me that Nehemiah was fast, but couldn’t catch. And my dad was right. Luckily for the 49ers, in their Super Bowl season of 1984 it didn’t really matter and Jerry Rice was drafted right afterward, effectively ending Nehemiah’s football career.
17. Jonas Jennings: Blaming players for getting injured isn’t fair, especially in the NFL. But 23 games over four seasons was pretty pathetic, and there were suspicions that Jennings wasn’t doing all he could to get back to the field along with rumors that he wasn’t exactly the best teammate. Considering the money he was paid, Jennings may be the worst free agent signing in franchise history.
16. Ashley Lelie: He was supposed to be a deep threat, and only averaged 11.5 yards per catch in his one year with the team. In 10 catches over 15 games. Guess that’s what you get when you sign guys named Ashley who played for the Rainbow Warriors.
15. Glen Coffee: He said he quit football during training camp before this season because of religious reasons. It might have also had to do with the fact that he only averaged 2.7 yards per carry in a very underwhelming rookie season. At least he didn’t blame God for sucking, like Stevie Johnson did after dropping that overtime pass in the end zone.
14. J.T. O’Sullivan: You can blame Mike Martz for making O’Sullivan sound like the secret weapon the 49ers didn’t even know they needed. It might have also been partly Martz’s fault that JTO threw 11 picks and got sacked 32 times in nine games. However, there was something dreadful about O’Sullivan’s style of play that Niners fans will never be able to erase from their memories.
13. Terrence Flagler: I admit, as a kid I loved Flagler. Since the 49ers dominated due to futuristic gameplans, sneaky-good defense and an owner who spent money like Nicholas Cage, I naturally wanted the 49ers to have the one thing they didn’t have: speed. All the other teams might have lost to the Niners, but I wanted a fast guy, dammit! WHY CAN’T WE HAVE ERIC METCALF??? Flagler was drafted in the first round (25th overall) in the ’87 draft, and what a bad pick that was. He never scored a TD as a kick returner (averaging 19.3 yards per kick return), and at RB only averaged 3.5 ypc with the Niners. One thing he could do was fumble, coughing it up 5 times in 1989 (his last season with the team before going to the Phoenix Cardinals for a couple seasons and fading away).
12. Israel Ifeanyi: A “project” (read: he doesn’t know how to actually play the game) from Nigeria, this 2nd round selection in the ’96 Draft played in 3 games and didn’t record any tackles. His name is fun to say, though.
11. Giovanni Carmazzi: Another bust with a cool name! Go ahead and try to find the stats for this 3rd-round (2000) QB out of Hofstra. You can’t. He never played a down. That looks especially bad considering Tim Rattay was drafted four rounds later and played until 2007.
Here’s Part 2: the 10 worst 49ers in my lifetime.