One of the few NFL dynasties, the San Francisco are in rare company based on their Super Bowl success and Hall of Fame talent. While most of their dominance took place in the 1980s and 1990s, the team features a long list of elite talent from across several periods. For collectors, rookie cards are a main focus and the 49ers feature some of the best options to chase. The following guide features the top vintage and modern San Francisco 49ers rookie cards of all-time.
As difficult as it is to compare players from different seasons, is it is even harder to do so across different eras of football. The vintage list below is limited to rookie cards from before 1980 and includes some of the top names in the history of the 49ers. The rank is based on the actual value of the cards, but the player's relevance was taken into account when values were close. It is important to note that value with vintage cards can vary greatly based on condition and vintage high-grades can sell for a significant premium regardless of the player.
View the top modern San Francisco 49ers rookie card on the tab above.
Top San Francisco 49ers Vintage Rookie Cards
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A six-time Pro Bowl selection for the 49ers in the 1950s, Billy Wilson was the receiving threat for San Francisco and quarterback Y. A. Tittle. His rookie is found in the colorful 1955 Bowman, which was the last Bowman product before the company was absorbed by Topps.
Charlie Krueger spent his entire 15-year career with the 49ers and was selected to two Pro Bowls. He also had his number retired by the team. Collectors can find his inexpensive rookie card in 1965 Philadelphia.
The most recent player on the vintage list, Fred Dean started his career in San Diego, spending several years with the team until he was traded to San Francisco. Although he only totaled five seasons with the Niners, Dean went to two Pro Bowls and won two Super Bowls to end his Hall of Fame career. The plain design for Fred Deans' 1978 Topps rookie makes it one of the least appealing of the group.
Another player with a relatively short stay in San Francisco, R. C. Owens spent the first five season of his career with the 49ers as a key receiver for Y. A. Tittle. Owens was inducted into the San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame in 2011. It should be noted that his rookie in 1958 Topps actually displays Don Owens by mistake.
A less-heralded quarterback from the 49ers' past, John Brodie was a two-time Pro Bowl selection, as well as the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 1965 and the MVP in 1970. His number was retired by San Francisco and he was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame. John Brodie's card in 1961 Topps is one of the key rookies in the set.
Ken Willard was a top rusher for the 49ers in the late-1960s and was selected to four Pro Bowl teams. Willard was actually drafted ahead of Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers in 1965. His rookie in 1966 Philadelphia is also where rookies for Butkus and Sayers can be found.
Not to be confused with the Cowboys' coach from the early-1990s, Jimmy Johnson was also the name of an elite cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers. The Hall of Fame defensive back went to five Pro Bowls and even switched to wide receiver for a short time. Johnson's 1964 Philadelphia rookie is rather humorous given the perplexed look on his face as he cradles the football.
Gordy Soltau was a wide receiver and kicker for the 49ers in the 1950s and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection. He spent his entire career in San Francisco and was inducted in the 49ers Hall of Fame. Collectors can find the rookie card for Gordy Soltau in 1951 Bowman.
A Hall of Fame linebacker who played 11 seasons for the 49ers, Dave Wilcox went to seven Pro Bowls. The bright yellow border of his 1967 Philadelphia rookie makes it an easy set to identify for vintage collectors.
Part of the "Million Dollar Backfield" with the San Francisco 49ers along with Y. A. Tittle, Hugh McElhenny and Joe Perry, John Henry Johnson also had a memorable stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Hall of Fame fullback had one Pro Bowl selection with the 49ers and his rookie in 1955 Bowman is the point where values begin to climb on the list.
The very first quarterback for the 49ers, Frankie Albert was the starter for the first five years of the franchise before losing his job to Y. A. Tittle. Albert is also overshadowed by Tittle in 1950 Bowman, as both have their rookie cards in the set.
One of the best running backs of the 1950s, Joe Perry used his impressive speed to claim two rushing titles and three Pro Bowl selections with the 49ers. The Hall of Fame back spent two seasons with the Baltimore Colts before retiring in San Francisco. Another key vintage San Francisco rookie found in 1950 Bowman, Joe Perry's first card has the misfortune of capturing a very odd facial expression.
The third and final key 49ers rookie from 1955 Bowman, Bob St. Clair also spent most of his high school and college career in San Francisco. The Hall of Fame offensive tackle went to five Pro Bowls and was a nine-time All-Pro during his time with the Niners.
Born in Italy, Leo Nomellini was a Hall of Fame defensive tackle who also moonlighted as a professional wrestler for the NWA and AWA. The ten-time Pro Bowl selection played in every game for all 14 seasons with the 49ers. His rookie is available in 1948 Leaf and there are three different color variations of the Leo Nomellini card.
Hugh McElhenny played for four teams during his NFL career, but the bulk of it was spent in San Francisco. McElhenny went to five Pro Bowls as a Niner and was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Collectors have two rookie options for Hugh McElhenny since 1952 Bowman came in both a small and large version.
An elite quarterback in the 1950s and early-1960s, Y. A. Tittle played for the 49ers for a decade before ending his career in New York. The Hall of Fame QB was a four-time Pro Bowl selection in San Francisco until a trade sent him to the Giants. Y. A. Tittle's 1950 Bowman rookie checks in at number one on the list.
1978 Topps Fred Dean RC #217 Football NM MINT
Terrell Suggs 2003 Upper Deck Pros and Prospects Leo Nomellini RC AUTO Ravens
1951 Bowman #67 Gordy Soltau RC EXMT+ X1269865
1964 PHILADELPHIA #161 JIM JOHNSON RC EXMT *A12775
While the San Francisco 49ers had some good seasons from the 1940s to the 1970s, the franchise cemented its NFL legacy in the 1980s and 1990s. With four Super Bowl wins in the 1980s and another in the 1990s, these teams and their star players are some of the most popular modern collecting options. The following list looks at the top modern rookie card for the San Francisco 49ers. Given the huge changes in the hobby from 1980 until now, the ranking is largely based on the relevance of the player.
Top San Francisco 49ers Modern Rookie Cards
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After a great start to his NFL career, including two straight NFC Championship appearances and one trip to the Super Bowl, Colin Kaepernick has not seen as much success. Regardless, the athletic quarterback has tremendous potential and the starting job is still his. Kaepernick enjoys considerable hobby interest and among his many rookie options, the ultra-premium 2011 National Treasures checks in at the top.
2014 was brutal for Vernon Davis, but that does not change what he has accomplished in previous seasons with the team. The two-time Pro Bowl player has been one of the top tight ends of the last decade and a popular option for collectors. His top rookie can be found in 2006 Exquisite and includes a large patch and on-card autograph.
Although he started his career with the Cincinnati Bengals, Justin Smith truly blossomed once he signed as a free agent with the 49ers. Smith was a five-time Pro Bowl selection and one of the top defensive ends in the league with San Francisco. "The Cowboy" has many rookie cards in 2001 products, but his signed Contenders card is the best overall option.
Sometimes lost in the star power of the 49ers franchise, John Taylor was a receiver and punt/kickoff returner for the team during one of their most dominant stretches. Taylor was a terrific complement to Jerry Rice, winning three Super Bowls and going to two Pro Bowls. John Taylor has three rookie card options in 1989 products and all are budget options. The Topps version slightly edges out the Score and Pro Set version as it is is the only one to not feature a green border, which clashes with the 49ers colors.
Famed for his game-winning touchdown reception in the 1981 NFC Playoffs, Dwight Clark cemented his place in 49ers lore with "The Catch." Clark was a two-time Pro Bowl selection and won two Super Bowls with San Francisco. Collectors can find his rookie in 1981 Topps, which is also the place for Joe Montana's rookie card.
Always controversial, Terrell Owens had several strong seasons with the 49ers and appeared to be the heir apparent for Jerry Rice. He went to four consecutive Pro Bowls in San Francisco before leaving the team for Philadelphia and is considered to be one of the top receivers of the 2000s. Owens only has ten rookies in 1996 products and several mid-level options could claim the top spot, but his Bowman's Best card is arguable the best.
A largely unsung hero for the San Francisco 49ers in the 1990s, Brent Jones was part of three Super Bowl wins and was named to four Pro Bowls as a tight end. Many may not realize that Brent Jones actually started his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but never played any games due to injury. His 1990 Topps rookie only goes for a few dollars, but the Tiffany parallel can bump that price up a bit.
Despite an unceremonious trade out of San Francisco, Charles Haley went to three Pro Bowls and won two Super Bowls during his first six years with the 49ers. After several seasons in Dallas, Haley later returned to the team for two more years before finally retiring. His 1987 Topps rookie can regularly be found for budget prices.
One of the few consistent faces for the 49ers for nearly a decade, Frank Gore was a five-time Pro Bowl running back for the team and is the 49ers all-time rushing leader in yards and touchdowns. Although it is not as aesthetically pleasing as many of the other Exquisite rookie designs, Gore's 2005 Exquisite Collection card is limited to 199 and has two small jersey pieces along with an autograph.
Bryant Young was a force on defense for the 49ers and was named to the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team and four Pro Bowls. Collectors can find several base rookies for Bryant Young in 1994 products but his foil SP card is arguably the best.
The linchpin of the 49ers defense for many seasons, Patrick Willis has been selected to seven Pro Bowls and led the NFL in tackles in 2007 and 2009. Injuries have slowed Willis lately but he is still one of the top defensive options for the team. His best rookie is found in 2007 Exquisite and features a large patch and on-card signature.
The top running back for the 49ers during most of the 1980s, Roger Craig was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and won three Super Bowls with San Francisco. His 1984 Topps rookie is heavy on red and can be found for cheap.
An all-time great in San Fransisco and for the NFL as a whole, Ronnie Lott is one of the top defensive backs in league history and a member of the Hall of Fame. Lott spent the first ten years of his career with the 49ers and was selected to nine Pro Bowls. He was also part of four Super Bowl wins. Despite all this, his 1982 Topps rookie is still very inexpensive.
When a Hall of Fame quarterback is relegated to the bench for several years, you know the team must be very good. This is exactly what happened in San Francisco as Steve Young was the backup for Joe Montana. Once he finally got his chance to start, Young was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and Super Bowl MVP. While 1986 Topps is the official rookie card for Steve Young, many collectors view his 1984 Topps USFL card, shown below on the right, as his true rookie.
Generally mentioned among the best quarterbacks in NFL history, Montana won four Super Bowls and three Super Bowl MVPs. Montana was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection with the 49ers and would have likely added a few more if the team had not made the decision to move on with Steve Young. His 1981 Topps rookie is a hobby icon and high grades sell for thousands.
You could really have Montana or Jerry Rice at number one, but Jerry Rice did things that no receiver has ever done or will ever do and is considered by many to be the top overall player in NFL history. The 13-time Pro Bowl selection was a favorite for Joe Montana and Steve Young and won three Super Bowls and one Super Bowl MVP. Collectors can find his rookie in 1986 Topps, which featured one of the most distinct designs in the hobby. Love or hate the look, Jerry Rice makes the 1986 rookie card a clear collecting favorite.