Forget the Pro Bowl, these are the awards that matter. The NFL All-Pro teams were announced today, and the San Francisco 49ers had an astounding five players named to the First Team: Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Andy Lee and David Akers. They dominated the 28-man squad (16 coming from the NFC), with Baltimore coming in second with three First Team All-Pros.
Willis was named for the fourth time and the third consecutive season. Both Lee (2007) and Akers (2001) were named for the second time, while Smith and Bowman (Pro Bowl alternate, ha!) are both first-timers. Joe Staley and Carlos Rogers were both named to the Second Team, as was Smith who also finished third in the voting at defensive end.
The amount of recognition the Niners are receiving is almost overwhelming. When I wrote about the 49ers’ All-Pro possibilities back in November, I predicted that Willis, Smith and Lee would make it while giving an outside shot to Rogers, Bowman, Mike Iupati and Ray McDonald (the latter two might be the only 49ers who are underrated these days). I didn’t even mention Akers; then again who would’ve predicted that Akers would make 31(!) field goals in the 10 games after I wrote that post.
Before the 2011 season, only 11 teams in franchise history ever had three guys named First Team All-Pro, six squads had at least four and only one (1972, with Forrest Blue, Jimmy Johnson, Ted Kwalick, Gene Washington and Dave Wilcox) had five. Until now. Add in the fact that Frank Gore’s probably the best running back in franchise history since the NFL/AFL merger (with all due respect to Roger Craig), and the 2011 Niners could go down as one of the best 49ers teams of all time — provided they keep their impressive run going in the playoffs.
Postseason accolades like these follow when a team goes 13-3 with the best defense and special teams in the league. People notice, and the 50 media members who vote on the All-Pro teams definitely did. Still, it’s amazing that after looking like a second-rate (hell, fifth-rate) franchise for almost a full decade, in the space of one season the 49ers have become known as one of the most talented teams in the league with a coach in Jim Harbaugh who’s a lock to win Coach of the Year. Hard to say this season isn’t already an unfathomable success, no matter how things go on January 14.