Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

San Francisco 49ers: All-“No” Team, Skill Positions

Posted on October 07, 2009 by Blaine Spence

The 49ers selected Jim Druckenmiller over Jake Plummer in the 1997 NFL Draft.

The 49ers selected Jim Druckenmiller over Jake Plummer in the 1997 NFL Draft.

“There’ll be no parade, no TV or stage…You don’t have to be a star, baby, to be in my show.”

—Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., 1976


During recent months I have read some great articles recounting the San Francisco 49ers glory years. I’ve seen articles describing the author’s favorite 49er team, articles comparing Steve Young to Joe Montana, and articles re-living “The Catch” and “The Stop.” Ah…those were the days!

You won’t find that here.

I have decided to assemble a 49er team based on some of the worst decisions in the last 30 years or so of the team’s history.

So as you’re reading, please keep this in mind. Being bad doesn’t always get you on the team, though it does help. The decision to bring you in, or even to release you, might be the deciding factor for this team.

So, without further ado, and foregoing hours of intense research (I went with the more reliable “cringe factor”), I give you the San Francisco 49ers’ All-“No” Team!

Grab your Maalox and barf bags and get ready to re-live some of the most painful and mind boggling decisions in 49er history.

“…Stupid is, as stupid does”

—Forest Gump, 1994

Quarterback: Jim Druckenmiller

In 1997, Jim Druckenmiller came out of Virginia Tech as a highly touted prospect at quarterback along with Arizona State’s Jake Plummer.

Druckenmiller sent a video of himself working out, displaying great feats of strength (including one of him pulling a station wagon around the Virginia Tech campus), to all of the NFL teams that might be interested in drafting him. It should be noted here that Druckenmiller was well known for working out side by side with his fellow Hokie linemen.

The Niners selected Druckenmiller with the 26th selection of the first round.

Following two years of play, after Druckenmiller couldn’t move up the depth chart and hadn’t thrown a pass, the man who selected him, Dwight Clark, labeled him an immature 26-year-old, and Plummer had his team, the Arizona Cardinals, in the playoffs for the first time in 26 years.

Safely in Cleveland, Clark pointed his finger at Walsh for the pick, claiming Walsh had told him Druckenmiller had more potential than Plummer. Walsh denied ever saying anything of the sort.

What we do know is this: the 49ers had asked Bill Walsh to breakdown several quarterback prospects in the 1997 draft.

Walsh made several very public comparisons of Plummer to Joe Montana.

I have seen no evidence that he ever made a breakdown of Druckenmiller.

Did Vinny Cerrato, Dwight Clark, and Carmen Policy want to escape Walsh’s shadow?

Was the 49er brain trust (term used loosely here) enamored by Druckenmiller’s video?

I defer to Forest here.

There are plenty of backups for QB position on the All-“No” Team.

Here are just a few: Steve Stenstrom, Ken Dorsey, Gio Carmazzi, please feel free to add your own!

“You’ve given me, given me
nothing but shattered dreams, shattered dreams”

—Johnny Hates Jazz, 1990

Wideouts and Tight End: Renaldo Nehemiah, JJ Stokes, Adrian Cooper

Renaldo Nehemiah did win a Super Bowl with the 49ers, but caught just 43 passes in three years.

Renaldo Nehemiah did win a Super Bowl with the 49ers, but caught just 43 passes in three years.

Renaldo Nehemiah dominated the 110-meter hurdles for a dozen years prior to signing with the 49ers in 1982. He smashed several world records and lowered them multiple times. He posted victories at the Pan-American Games as well as the World Cup.

However, due to the boycott in 1980, “Skeets” was denied a shot at Olympic glory.

But the man couldn’t play football at the NFL level. In his three-year career, Nehemiah was mostly used as a decoy, drawing coverage deep and often times drawing double coverage. But how long can you make a career out of that until other teams wise up? About three seasons I guess.

“Skeets” did get a Super Bowl ring in ’94, but played a minuscule part.

I would have to say though, that this did not turn out to be one of Bill Walsh’s brighter innovations—should have held out for Willie Gault, Bill!

In 1995 the 49ers were looking for the heir apparent to Jerry Rice. Their man was none other than JJ Stokes. In a scenario eerily familiar to this year’s Michael Crabtree selection, but at a much higher price, Stokes was sitting pretty at number ten in that year’s draft.

The 49ers gave up their first pick (the 30th overall), their third (94th), a fourth (119th) and their No. 1 pick in 1996 to move up to nab Stokes.

”We had to pay a price,” coach George Seifert said. You can say that again, George.

After eight years of dropped balls, a broken hand, much pouting [“Steve (Young) never threw me the ball enough; Jeff (Garcia) never threw me the ball enough; they could have thrown more balls my way”] and a Bill Romanowski phlegm-wad to the face, the 49ers released Stokes.

One thing that did occur to me while writing this though: perhaps the reason so many “diva” receivers drop balls is that they are afraid to break a nail. A mani-pedi can be quite expensive.

Some of you may be a bit surprised by the absence of a certain receiver named “T.O.” on the All No Team. But quite frankly, I rather enjoyed T.O. while he was with the 49ers. He was after all, instrumental in the team finally beating our nemesis, the Brett Favre-led Packers, in the playoffs in 1999. And the spike on the Cowboy’s star—priceless!

But since the 49ers basically got nothing for trading him, I suppose those negations do merit an honorable mention.

Claiming that Owens’s agent had missed a deadline to void the last year of T.O.’s contract, the 49ers had a deal in place with the Baltimore Ravens for a second round pick in the 2004 draft. Owens, wanting out of San Francisco, wanted to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles. Before an arbitrator could sort the whole mess out, the three teams reached a deal.

The Raven’s would get their second round pick back. The Eagles would get Owens. The 49ers would receive a conditional fifth round pick and oft-injured defensive end Brandon Whiting from the Eagles.

Whiting played in five games for the 49ers in 2004 before he was placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL. He failed his physical the following year and the 49ers terminated his contract.

Backups: Darrell Jackson, Rashaun Woods, Derrick Hamilton.

I remember being all pumped about the signing of Adrian Cooper. The 49ers gave him big money so he had to be good, right? No. 49 finally hit the field in the 11th game of 1996. He finished the season with just six games played, and one reception for 11 yards. Now that is a crime.

Speaking of crime, Cooper was remanded to federal prison in 2006 for bilking his customers out of more than a million dollars while serving as a stock broker.

What a great segue into the running backs!

“This here’s a story about Billy Joe and Bobbie Sue…
go on take the money and run…”

—Steve Miller, 1976

Running Backs: Lawrence Phillips and Johnny Johnson

On the heels of Garrison Hearst’s devastating ankle injury in the 1998 playoffs against the Atlanta Falcons, the 49ers found themselves with a dearth of talent entering the 1999 season. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

The 49ers signed Lawrence Phillips, hoping he could put his troubles behind him.

Fat chance.

Lawrence Phillips gained 144 yards in eight games with the 49ers.

Lawrence Phillips gained 144 yards in eight games with the 49ers.

In a nationally televised game against the Arizona Cardinals, Phillips whiffed on his assignment to pick up the corner blitz. The hard charging Aeneas Williams delivered a clean hit on Quarter back Steve Young, which resulted in a severe concussion, and ultimately the end of Young’s career.

Shortly after, Phillips was released from the team for missing a practice.

We know what Phillips really missed.

Phillips is currently serving a 10-year sentence in a California State prison for assault with a deadly weapon. It seems Phillips got into an argument with three teenagers following a pick-up football game in Los Angeles. Phillips must have lost some of his old moves as he decided to use his car to run over the three youths.

I was going to call Phillips a pile of human garbage here; however, I realized calling him human was going too far.

Perhaps Phillips and Cooper could become pen pals.

I would bet that some of you are asking how Johnny Johnson can be on the team, as he never even played for the 49ers. Let me explain.

In 1996, the 49ers went hard after transition free agent Rodney Hampton of the New York Giants. Carmen Policy devised an offer that was structured in such a way that it would be almost impossible for the Giants to match.

Policy even publicly stated that Hampton was committed to the team and that he had his heart set on heading out west.

The Giants re-signed Hampton, the ‘Niners were left with egg on their face, and their desperation for a running back hit critical mass.

Johnny Johnson is a bit of an enigma to say the least. Johnson earned Pro-Bowl honors in his first season with the Phoenix Cardinals. After three solid seasons, the Cardinals traded him to the New York Jets to move up one spot and the right to draft Garrison Hearst in the 1993 draft.

Johnson earned MVP honors from his teammates on the Jets in 1993 and led the team in both rushing and receiving. The Jets released Johnson following the 1994 season, in what was described as a salary cap move.

After having not played in 1995, the 49ers signed Johnson to a two-year deal for three million dollars that included a guaranteed signing bonus of $500,000.

“He’s got himself in the type of condition and mental frame of mind that I think he’s really going to contribute to our club,” Seifert said at the time.

Citing a chronic back condition, Johnson never made a practice and was released prior to the start of the regular season.

Queue Steve Miller.

Backups: Amp Lee, Dexter Carter, “Touchdown Tommy” Vardell, Travis Jervey.

Coming soon: The offensive line and the defense!

I am feeling some Stones coming on…shadobie!

Blaine Spence is a regular contributor to Sports Then and Now.

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