The 2011 San Francisco 49ers were hardly your average rebuilding project. Coach Jim Harbaugh took over an expletive-free team stocked with talent, the result of underrated drafting during the era of general manager Scot McCloughan and coach Mike Nolan.
As Albert Breer pointed out, 15 of the 49ers' 22 starters predated Harbaugh's arrival. The new regime deserves credit for blowing up the roster that McCloughan largely built. His 2007 draft haul standing out as particularly ridiculous:
» First round: Patrick Willis, linebacker
» First round: Joe Staley, tackle
» Third round: Ray McDonald, defensive end
» Fourth round: Dashon Goldson, safety
» Fifth round: Tarell Brown, cornerback
That's five Super Bowl starters in one draft. Willis has the chance to be an all-time great. Staley and Goldson have made Pro Bowls. McDonald is a very underrated piece of the team's defensive line, and Brown starts on the outside at cornerback. It often takes years to find that much draft talent.
McCloughan didn't only make great draft moves. Justin Smith and Ahmad Brooks were picked up for extremely good values in 2008 as free agents (Smith with such a big deal that he was still a bargain in retrospect; Brooks was picked up off the scrap heap).
The 49ers are relatively new to the national stage, but it's a veteran team with continuity in many ways. Frank Gore and Vernon Davis are among 13 players who've been on the Niners for at least six seasons.
Of course, the 49ers wouldn't have made it this far if not for Harbaugh's coaching and the excellent work of McCloughan's replacement at general manager, Trent Baalke.
The team's 2011 class includes Aldon Smith, Colin Kaepernick, slot cornerback Chris Culliver, running back Kendall Hunter, and fullback Bruce Miller. That class might already rival or exceed the excellent 2007 crop.
This is a 49ers team that is built to last.Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.