Commentary

Third Round: Golden Greats Bridge

With Montana, Owens, 49ers struck third-round gold twice

Originally Published: April 15, 2010
By Sheldon Spencer | ESPN.com

Joe Montana/Terrell OwensGetty ImagesJoe Montana and Terrell Owens never played together on the 49ers, but they're teammates on our third-round all-stars.
What fate and time failed to do, ESPN.com's round-by-round draft survey produces: Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana and wide receiver Terrell Owens are battery mates on our best third-rounders team.

By the time Owens first donned 49ers colors in 1996, Montana was three years removed from that dynasty and enjoying retirement after a two-year stint as a Kansas City Chief. In 14 seasons as a 49er, former Notre Dame star Montana (drafted in 1979) amassed amazing numbers, including two league MVPs and four Super Bowl titles.

He's one of three Hall of Fame quarterbacks selected in the third round in NFL history. Dan Fouts (1973, San Diego Chargers) and Fran Tarkenton (1960, Minnesota Vikings) are the others.

The third round blessed the 49ers again with the selection of Owens. Learning by the side of another 49ers Hall of Famer in Jerry Rice, Owens blossomed. The former Tennessee-Chattanooga star worked with Montana's successors, Steve Young and Jeff Garcia. When Owens finished his eighth year in San Francisco before joining the Philadelphia Eagles, he was second only to Rice in five franchise career receiving categories.

Owens is another one of our wild-card first-team picks. If we were following our guidelines for assembling these teams more strictly, Owens probably would be among those "also considered." Receiver Tommy McDonald (1957, Philadelphia Eagles) deserves first-team status and he would have been elevated over Owens: McDonald won an NFL title and is a Hall of Fame inductee. Certainly Owens is Canton-bound and has a Super Bowl appearance, but a championship remains out of his grasp.

But love him or hate him, Owen is one of those iconic figures who can't be sidelined with ease.

The same could be said for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward (1998), whose hard-nosed play diminishes the notion that all great receivers are divas. The former Georgia star's crushing blocks are almost more noteworthy than any of his catches.

Ward's Super Bowl bling (two rings) helps elevate him over Steve Smith (2001, Carolina Panthers), another gritty target, for our other starting wide receiver slot.

Sheldon Spencer is an NFL editor at ESPN.com. Thanks to ESPN's Stats & Information crew for their researching efforts, as well as Pro-Football-Reference.com and the Pro Football Hall Of Fame's Web site.