49ers dare to compare: 1981 vs. 2011

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49ers dare to compare: 1981 vs. 2011

Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. has been watching his former team -- every minute, of every game. That is, unless he gets to nervous and has to get up and walk around before coming back to the television.

Im having so much fun following it, DeBartolo said recently.

He talks to his nephew Jed York regularly, has given him advice (dont get the yips yet -- theres plenty of time for that) and lauds him for minding his own business and staying out of Jim Harbaughs way. He cringed when the lights went out at Candlestick How right was I when I called it a pigsty? he said referring to his 1985 remark -- and suspects Jed of pulling the plug.

And DeBartolo feels the vibe in the air -- one that brings back memories of 1981.

There are a lot of parallels, he said.

But DeBartolo thinks this 49ers team may be even better than his group.

Three-quarters of the guys on the 81 team are pissed off at me for saying this, he said, But position by position, all in all, this is a better football team.

Is he right? It sounds almost like blasphemy but is this a better football team than the 1981 team that started the dynasty and won the first of five Super Bowls?

I asked Randy Cross (@randycrossFB) on twitter Friday. He responded: In todays FB world I think today's players are the most talented ever but a TEAM wins a Championship, that remains to be seen. He added that this version of the 49ers has much more recognized Stars that's for sure. O-linemen of course not being Stars but overall yes.

So he agrees with DeBartolo though I would dispute that this version of the 49ers has more stars than that version did. Maybe the stars were young, back in 1981 but they were getting national attention.

Todays players are super-athletic, bigger and faste. Its hard to compare eras. But is this team, position by position in the context of its era, better than the 1981 team?

Lets take a look:

OFFENSE
The 2011 49ers are ranked 11th in overall offense, 29th in passing and 8th in rushing. In 1981, the offense ranked 7th overall, 7th in passing and 19th in rushing.

QUARTERBACK: Sorry Eddie. Everyone knows the 81 team was superior at the all-important position. Alex Smith has done a solid job and defied expectations. But Joe Montana is a once in a lifetime quarterback, a Hall of Famer who may be the best of all time.
EDGE: '81 49ers

OFFENSIVE LINE: Dan Audick, John Ayers, Fred Quillan, Randy Cross and Keith Fahnhorst made up the 1981 team. Audick, one of the original undersized left tackles, protected Montanas blind side until 1984. Cross was a six-time Pro Bowl selection. He along with Ayers, Quillan and Fahnhorst formed the rock of one of the best offenses in history for close to a decade. Anthony Davis, Joe Staley, Jonathan Goodwin, Mike Iupati and Adam Snyder have come together nicely. But get back to us in 2017 before we can say they were as good as that 81 unit.
EDGE: 81 team.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Since the current 49ers can barely field a full wide receiving squad the nod is automatically going to the 81 team. Michael Crabtree, Ted Ginn, Jr. and Kyle Williams cant compete with Dwight Clark, Freddie Solomon and a young Mike Wilson.
EDGE: 81 team.

RUNNING BACK: OK, Eddie this one absolutely belongs to the 2011 team. One of the most amazing things about the 81 team was what Bill Walsh did with virtually no running game. Ricky Patton? Bill Ring? Lenvil Elliott (who was awesome on the drive leading up to the Catch but did little leading up to that)? Frank Gore is one of the best in the league, a warrior, a player for the ages.
EDGE: 11 team.

TIGHT END: Though Bill Walsh was an innovator with this position, he didnt have the right weapon in Charle Young -- serviceable but not outstanding. Walsh would have loved to have Vernon Davis.
EDGE: 11 team.

DEFENSE
Both the 2011 49ers and the 1981 49ers were the second-ranked defenses in the league. The 2011 team is first at stopping the run, 16th against the pass. In 1981 the team was third in the league against the pass and 12th against the run.

DEFENSIVE LINE: In 1981, Jim Stuckey, Archie Reese, Lawrence Pillars and Dwaine Board were a formidable front and they made the play that sealed the 81 win, when Pillers sacked Danny White, forcing a fumble, and Stuckey recovered the ball. Ray McDonald, Justin Smith, Issac Sopoaga have been fabulous. Its hard to compare, because 1981 was the last year that the NFL did not keep defensive statistics on sacks. But we know the 49ers current front is excellent at getting pressure and better at stopping the run. The 49ers front seven is the best in football and it starts with these guys.
EDGE: '11 team.

LINEBACKERS: The 49ers linebacker corps Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith -- may go down as one of the greatest units in linebacking history. The 81 unit anchored by veteran Jack Reynolds and rookie Keena Turner, with Craig Puki and Willie Harper, was good but not all-world.
EDGE: '11 team.

SECONDARY: The 2011 defensive backfield has been opportunistic. Corners Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers and safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldon have held their own. But Dwight Hicks and the Hotlicks Hicks and his three rookies was a tremendous backfield. Ronnie Lott would go on to be a Hall of Famer, and was playing corner, on the other side Eric Wright was the best cover corner in his day and Carlton Williamson took care of business.
EDGE: '81 team.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Ray Wersching and punter Jim Miller were solid in 1981. The 49ers were 4th in kicking and punting. But Andy Lee and David Akers are indispensible, and field position and field goals have been a huge reason behind the 49ers record.
EDGE: '11 team

COACH
Bill Walsh. Jim Harbaugh may go to the Hall of Fame someday. Hes a fantastic coach. But in 1981, Walsh was changing the game forever.

VERDICT: Its very close. With the benefit of hindsight we can see the longevity and long-term greatness of 1981 team. But its pretty clear that -- aside from the running game and tight end -- the 1981 49ers were superior on offense. And that aside from the secondary (which will obviously be in the spotlight against the Saints) the 2011 49ers are superior on defense.

We know how the 1981 teams journey played out. The 2011 team is about to write its story.

Freelance writer Ann Killion is a regular contributor to CSNBayArea.com and Chronicle Live.

49ers draft board consists of nearly 200 prospects

49ers draft board consists of nearly 200 prospects

The 49ers new draft grading system is inspired by the New England Patriots, but their draft menu consists of a lot more options.

“We’ve got just under 200 players on our draft board, that we see as draftable players on our board,” 49ers general manager John Lynch told reporters Monday at team headquarters in Santa Clara.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time in here and it was needed this year because I had a lot of catch-up to do. I can tell you that just (Sunday) night I finally got to the point, I always knew as a player like, ‘OK. I’m ready.’ That moment was (Sunday) for me where I said, ‘OK. I’m ready. I’m ready to go on this thing.’ That’s a good feeling.”

The 49ers have 10 draft picks scheduled for the three-day draft, including the No. 2 overall selection. With 73 players under contract, the 49ers figure to add approximately 17 rookies through the draft and as free agents. The NFL's seven-round draft will result in 253 players being selected.

Lynch was hired out of the FOX broadcast booth a week before the Super Bowl. The following week, Lynch assembled all of the team’s scouts for meetings in Santa Clara.

“When we first brought scouts in right after the Super Bowl we were kind of working off the old grading system,” Lynch said. “But what helped was the grading system that they use in Denver, which kind of derived from one that was developed in New England.”

One of Lynch’s first hires was former Broncos college scouting director Adam Peters as 49ers vice president of player personnel. New coach Kyle Shanahan was also familiar with the system because, like Peters, Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff worked in the Patriots’ scouting department.

“In these last three weeks of draft meetings we moved over to that grading scale,” Lynch said.

“I’ve always been someone who thinks you should listen to multiple opinions and we’ve been very collaborative. I believe in strong opinions. Someone once told me, ‘Strong opinions, weakly held.’ So are you open to different thoughts and someone makes you think? But ultimately someone’s got to make decisions.”

Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio recently told Boston-area reporters that New England's draft board consists of only 50 to 75 players who fit as draft picks for their team. The Patriots have seven scheduled draft picks but none in the first two rounds.

"I would say it varies year to year, but I would say our draft board is smaller than most," Caserio said. "We are trying to find players that we feel comfortable with on all levels that we would actually draft -- not that are going to get drafted.

"It's players that we would draft, that we would actually feel comfortable with in our program in some capacity."

49ERS 2017 DRAFT PICKS
1. First round: No. 2 overall
2. Second round: No. 34 overall
3. Third round: No. 66 overall
4. Fourth round: No. 109 overall
5. Fourth round: No. 143 overall (compensatory)
6. Fifth round: No. 146 overall
7. Fifth round: No. 161 (pick acquired from Washington in 2015 trade for TE Derek Carrier)
8. Sixth round: No. 198 overall (from Baltimore in trade with C Jeremy Zuttah for No. 186)
9. Sixth round: No. 202 overall (pick acquired from Denver in 2015 trade for TE Vernon Davis)
10. Seventh round: No. 219 overall (pick acquired from Cleveland in 2015 trade for Andy Lee)

Lynch: There's interest in 49ers' No. 2 pick, 'it's coveted'

Lynch: There's interest in 49ers' No. 2 pick, 'it's coveted'

The 49ers have narrowed their list of potential draft picks for the No. 2 overall selection on Thursday evening but they are also keeping alive the possibility of a trade.

“I can tell you with the No. 2 (pick), there have been calls. There’s been interest, but, I think, nothing specific,” 49ers general manager John Lynch told reporters Monday at team headquarters in Santa Clara.

“It’s coveted. When you have a pick that high, I think that’s natural.”

Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, running back Leonard Fournette and several options at defensive back are among the options most often linked to the 49ers at the No. 2 overall pick.

“We’re going to listen right up until draft day,” Lynch said. “But otherwise we’re going to pick a player at two that we feel is a cornerstone for this franchise for years to come and we’ll be very passionate about that pick and what that player can do for us moving forward.”

The 49ers have two veteran quarterbacks – Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley – currently under contract. Lynch said the 49ers have not ruled out the possibility of selecting a quarterback with the team’s top pick.

“I think we’ve stated from the beginning that a franchise quarterback is something we believe is essential to winning in this league,” Lynch said. “We hope that Hoyer and Barkley come in, and they were both brought in for a reason, but we feel like we’ll continue, always continue, to try to improve ourselves at that position.”

The coaching staff will get its first opportunity to evaluate the current roster, beginning Tuesday. With new coach Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers are allowed to conduct a voluntary three-day minicamp before the draft.

“We have a good understanding of where we are and what we’re looking for,” Lynch said. “In terms of just getting a look real quick, and whether that will change our mind on anything, but you would hate not to give guys an opportunity to go show what they are doing before you went out and did that.

“We’ll use it for what it’s worth. I don’t know how much value. I think more than anything our coaches are just really excited to get guys out on the field, so we’ll use it as such. We’ve got a couple players in here on a tryout basis and so we’re happy for that, to see if we can add some things. We’ll evaluate but continue to work on the draft process as well.”

Lynch said the 49ers have implemented changes to the team’s grading process for the draft, drawing on a model the New England Patriots set up. Vice president of player personnel Adam Peters worked in the Patriots’ scouting department before advancing to director of college scouting with the Denver Broncos. Shanahan is also familiar with the grading system from his time with the Atlanta Falcons under general manager Thomas Dimitroff, formerly a Patriots personnel executive.

“I think we tried to create an environment that’s collaborative, where people can be confident in sharing their opinions, and we had strong opinions,” Lynch said. “They didn’t always agree, but we’ve gotten to a point where there’s consensus. Ultimately, it will be Kyle and I together making those decisions and that’s kind of where we are this week.”