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How Do The 2013 49ers Stack Up Against Montana And Young's Teams?

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Until Jim Harbaugh's team wins a Super Bowl ring, it's hard to compare them equally to the great 49ers teams of the past. Photo by Michael Zagaris/Getty Images.
Until Jim Harbaugh's team wins a Super Bowl ring, it's hard to compare them equally to the great 49ers teams of the past. Photo by Michael Zagaris/Getty Images.

When you think of historic 49ers’ teams, there are obviously five Super Bowl-winning ones that come to mind. However, if not for some historic playoff battles with the Cowboys and Packers, there could be a few more Lombardi trophies in San Francisco. But, that’s football. Recently, the 2011 and 2012 teams certainly would garner some votes as top 10 teams in franchise history.

While it’s always difficult to compare teams from different generations, I’ll give my best shot at comparing the 2013 edition of the Niners to some of their past clubs.

The Joe Montana-led teams of the 1980s are off-limits. It’s nothing against the current team, but with Montana, Roger Craig, Jerry Rice and John Taylor at the skill positions, it’s tough to put the current group anywhere near them. Frank Gore may have passed Roger Craig as the franchise’s leading rusher, and the offensive lines are both incredible, but that’s really where the similarities on offense end. The 1989 team, possibly one of the most dominant teams of all-time, has its similarities on defense.

In Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman, and Aldon Smith, the 49ers’ front seven is as formidable as it ever was. However, that 1989 club featured some fearsome players. In addition to workman-like linemen, such as Michael Carter and Kevin Fagan, the linebackers were a dominant group, with Bill Romanowski and Charles Haley. The back end featured Ronnie Lott, who would be the most-penalized safety in the NFL these days. I do like the comparison of defenses between this edition of the Niners and some of the 80s team, but 2013’s group stack up more favorably against Steve Young’s teams of the 90s.

Colin Kaepernick has been compared to the likes of Steve Young and Randall Cunningham early in his NFL career. While I’ve always thought making player comparisons — especially at the quarterback position — are futile, I respect these. However, the quarterback is depended on more and more in today’s NFL.

Although the Niners' dependence on and domination in the run game will still be prevalent this season, there will come a time when the defense isn’t as effective and the offensive line isn’t as dominant. For this reason, I’d say Kaepernick has a higher ceiling than both Young and Cunningham. His freakish athleticism, combined with his arm, is a combination that is a once-in-a-generation-type talent. By all accounts, Kaepernick has also been the best player at camp this season. Last season, he could throw the ball a mile with great velocity, but had difficulty making the touch throws. His offseason work has paid off and he’s poised to take another leap in his progression as an elite NFL signal-caller.

That brings us back to the discussion at hand. The current squad stacks up well against most of those teams in the 90s. While the Young-led teams undoubtedly had a better receiver corps — and a secondary that featured the likes of Deion Sanders, Eric Davis and Merton Hanks — those are the current club’s only real weaknesses. The 2013 Niners have a dominant offensive line and front seven that would create problems for any previous 49ers team.

Unfortunately, every team is measured against all others by Super Bowl rings. Although this group has been close to the top of the hill twice, they really can't be compared to those championship teams until they win it all.