Michael Crabtree: Torn Achilles a Career-Changer?

How soon can Michael Crabtree return to effectiveness?

The first major injury during pre-camp organized training activities occurred today, as 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles tendon. It's not yet known whether Crabtree's injury is a full or partial tear and Adam Schefter reported that Crabtree is currently undergoing additional testing.

You will undoubtedly read some reports in the coming hours and days arguing that an Achilles tear is a career-ending or career-threatening injury. Many of those reports will cite a Foot and Ankle study noting that a high percentage of NFL athletes never recover to the former levels of explosiveness based on a metric the authors termed Power Rating.

Fortunately for Crabtree, that's a flawed conclusion.

Many elite NFL athletes have returned to effectiveness after an Achilles tendon repair. Edge rushers like Derrick Burgess, Greg Ellis, and Julian Peterson put up multiple double-digit sack seasons after an Achilles tendon repair. Leon Hall has made a promising recovery at a similarly demanding defensive position. More recently, Demaryius Thomas has showed that a wide receiver could return to form after an Achilles injury.

The impressively termed Power Rating cited in the medical study wasn't based on a biometric analysis. Instead, it was a comparison of yards and touchdowns totaled by players like Ronald Curry and Todd Pinkston before and after their injuries -- far from a definitive analysis. Many of the players included in the study underwent more invasive procedures than Crabtree will have. Microsurgical techniques and accelerated rehab schedules have improved outcomes in more recent years.

To be clear, I'm not arguing that Crabtree is a lock to return to form and regain the consistency he'd begun to show last year. Even if his injury is proven to be only a partial tear, the potential for scarring, pain, and loss of explosiveness and range of motion are all reasons for concern for a wide receiver that must get off the line of scrimmage with power and change direction quickly to run routes effectively.

The most optimistic scenario for Crabtree is a return in 6-7 months, similar to the timeframe for Demaryius Thomas and others who recently had Achilles tears. That's the hope of San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh, who told reporters today that he doesn't expect Crabtree to miss all 16 games. Expect Crabtree to start the season on the PUP list and possibly be transitioned to injured reserve with a designation to return. That would give him a chance to return in December and contribute to a playoff run.

How effective Crabtree will be in 2013 is an open question. Terrell Suggs wasn't close to his usual self after trying to return from a partial tear in six months. Thomas has said he didn't feel like his former self for close to 18 months after his injury.

It's unlikely we'll see any meaningful production from Crabtree in 2013. He should only be considered a viable redraft option in leagues with a dedicated injured reserve slot or deep roster situations that can support a long term stash-and-hope talent. Dynasty leaguers will have more time to evaluate and make decisions. But recent history has proven that Crabtree's injury shouldn't be considered a career-changer yet.

Follow and ask injury questions on Twitter @JeneBramel.


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