While holed up in his hotel room on a road trip during a season in which the 49ers were in the midst of one of the most dominating Super Bowl runs in NFL history, Walsh was watching some college football on TV and was amazed by the skills and production of a kid that was tearing it up at unheralded Mississippi Valley State - not exactly your powerhouse college football factory. But Walsh liked what he saw, and he knew others did, too. While Rice's small-college pedigree figured to drop him from the top of the first round, Walsh knew he wouldn't slip too far. So, months after winning his second Super Bowl - a championship that truly validated him as a superior football mind and the 49ers as a NFL powerhouse - Walsh traded San Francisco's Nos. 1, 2 and 3 draft choices to New England for the Patriots' No. 1 choice, the No. 16 overall. That's where the 49ers grabbed Rice - right under the noses of the Dallas Cowboys
, who reportedly were set to grab Rice with the No. 17 pick. Besides No. 1 overall pick Bruce Smith, Rice proved to be the best player selected in that entire draft, and his arrival gave Walsh's West Coast offense the game-breaking weapon it needed to carry the team's dynasty to the end of the 20th century.
The Niners made six different trades involving draft picks with seven different teams, often trading down several times to acquire more picks. In what is considered one of the best drafts in NFL history, the Niners - as a result of those deals engineered by Walsh - were able to draft defensive end Larry Roberts, fullback Tom Rathman, cornerback Tim McKyer, defensive end Charles Haley, wide receiver John Taylor, offensive tackle Steve Wallace, cornerback Don Griffin and defensive end Kevin Fagan - all key contributors for future Super Bowl championship teams.
With Carmen Policy in charge as team president, the 49ers swapped draft choices involving the Atlanta Falcons
, Indianapolis Colts
, Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers
, Philadelphia Eagles
and Dallas Cowboys to come away with two first-round picks - the Nos. 7 and 28 overall - after reaching the NFC Championship game the previous season for the second consecutive year. Those picks became defensive tackle Bryant Young
and fullback William Floyd - both of whom became key starters on a team that finally made it over the hump, whipping the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC title game (the Cowboys had whipped the Niners in that game the previous two years) on the way to San Francisco's fifth and final Super Bowl championship.
With Walsh back at the controls in his second stint as San Francisco's general manager - and the No. 3 overall pick to work with as his ammunition - the cagey white-haired wonder traded down several times and came away with linebacker Julian Peterson
and cornerback Ahmed Plummer
with the 16th and 24th picks in the first round. Later trades netted draft picks that were used to acquire linebacker Jeff Ulbrich
, quarterback Tim Rattay
and defensive end John Milem. Peterson became a two-time Pro Bowl star, Plummer was one of the best young cornerbacks in the game for a while, Ulbrich became a solid starting linebacker and Rattay had a brief run as the team's starting quarterback. More significantly, this draft helped quickly turn around a team that was one of the NFL's worst in 1999 into one that finished 12-4 and made the playoffs in 2001, then won San Francisco's last NFC West title in 2002.
In Walsh's swan song with the 49ers - he would retire from an active role in team management a few weeks after the draft - the Hall of Fame coach went out with a bang. Walsh made a series of swaps involving draft picks to move up in the first round and select defensive end Andre Carter
. The moves also produced picks that were used to select linebacker Jamie Winborn
, running back Kevan Barlow
, cornerback Rashad Holman
and defensive end Menson Holloway
. Carter, Winborn and Barlow quickly became key players in the young nucleus that led the 49ers back briefly back into NFL prominence at the start of the 21st century, though in this transitory age of the NFL, their impact didn't last long. Barlow, however, became part of another draft maneuver the 49ers hope to take advantage of next weekend after the team traded him last August to the New York Jets
for a fourth-round pick in this year's draft, the No. 124 overall. For losing Carter in free agency last year, the 49ers also received a fourth-round compensatory this spring pick for Carter, the No. 135 overall.
The new 49ers' regime is getting good at draft maneuvers, one of which netted the team an extra first-rounder last year that became promising LB Manny Lawson. But Bill Walsh mastered the art of moving around in the NFL draft, and his maneuvers helped build a dynasty and taught the men who followed him in charge of the team how to operate. Here, SFI rates the top 5 draft maneuvers in 49ers history.
SFI rates the top 5 best draft maneuvers in the 62-year history of the 49ers franchise