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Player Spotlight: Michael Crabtree

A detailed examination of Michael Crabtree's fantasy prospects for 2016

You Can't Have It Both Ways

Are you a believer in the Oakland Raiders or not? If your answer is, "No", then I have no problem with you passing on Michael Crabtree this season. But, if you're one of the MANY people out there who are excited by the prospect of rostering Derek Carr or spending an early 2nd round pick on Amari Cooper, then I cannot fathom why you wouldn't jump at the chance to roster Crabtree. He's currently being drafted 82nd overall as the 35th receiver off the board. That ASTOUNDS me, because by definition it implies major regression.

Amari Cooper may be the better player, but he didn't show it last season

Amari Cooper had 72 receptions for 1,030 yards and 6 touchdowns as a rookie -- clearly that's an exciting start that has fantasy owners salivating at what's to come in 2016 and beyond. Being excited for Cooper is understandable. Players generally don't peak in their rookie season, which has many projecting further growth. Fantasy owners are paying for that growth -- Cooper is being drafted as the 11th receiver, on average, in the middle of the 2nd round. But here's the thing...Michael Crabtree was the more productive player last year.

  • Most Targets? -- Crabtree (146) vs Cooper (130)
  • Better Catch Rate? -- Crabtree (58%) vs Cooper (55%)
  • Most Receptions? -- Crabtree (85) vs Cooper (72)
  • Most Touchdowns? -- Crabtree (9) vs Cooper (6)
  • Most Yards? -- Cooper (1,070) vs Crabtree (922)
  • Higher Fantasy Ranking? -- Crabtree (WR20) vs Cooper (WR23)

Cooper had more yards (14.9 per catch) but lost out to Crabtree in EVERY OTHER MEASURE. It's important to remember that this wasn't a case of the rookie getting off to a slow start, either. Both Cooper and Crabtree had better first halves and faded in the second half:

  • Games 1-8 -- Crabtree (47/591/5 for 89 fantasy points) vs Cooper (45/653/4 for 89 fantasy points)
  • Games 9-16 -- Crabtree (38/331//4 for 57 fantasy points) vs Cooper (27/417/2 for 54 fantasy points)

Relative Value Wins Leagues

I'm NOT saying that Michael Crabtree is better than Amari Cooper. What I AM saying is that fantasy owners are paying a premium for growth from Cooper that we haven't seen and are discounting Crabtree as though last season isn't repeatable.

What Amari Cooper's ADP (WR11) Implies...

 
WR11 Production (2011-2015)
 
YearFirstLastTmRecsYdsTDsFPTs
2015 Eric Decker NYJ 80 1,027 12 175
2014 Mike Evans TB 68 1,051 12 177
2013 Jordy Nelson GB 85 1,314 8 179
2012 Marques Colston NO 83 1,154 10 175
2011 Marques Colston NO 80 1,143 8 162
Average       79 1,138 10 174

In order for Cooper to meet expectations, he needs to improve his fantasy production by 21% (174 points vs 143 points). Is that unrealistic? Maybe not, but it's certainly no lay up.


What Michael Crabtree's ADP (WR35) Implies...

 
WR35 Production (2011-2015)

YearFirstLastTmRecsYdsTDsFPTs
2015 Willie Snead NO 69 984 3 116
2014 Kendall Wright TEN 57 715 6 113
2013 Eddie Royal SD 47 631 8 113
2012 Brian Hartline MIA 74 1,083 1 114
2011 Eric Decker DEN 44 612 8 109
Average       58 805 5 112

Crabtree's ADP implies a 24% DECLINE from last season. The average WR35 catches 58 receptions for 805 yards and 5 touchdowns (112 fantasy points). What's the smarter play, investing in a guy at a 25% discount or a 20% premium?

How Do We Explain a Projected 24% Decline in Crabtree's Productivity?

The simple answer is: we can't.

  1. He's healthy
  2. The Raiders made no major changes to the receiving corps
  3. The team gave him a 5-year, $34 million extension with $19mm guaranteed
  4. He, like Cooper, is entering his 2nd year with the team and the offensive system

Positives

  • Crabtree is a gifted receiver who produced a Top 20 fantasy season in his first year with Oakland
  • The team is committed to him, rewarding him with a $34mm extension and $19mm guaranteed
  • His ADP implies a 24% year-over-year decline in productivity -- yet there's no credible reason to project that kind of regression

Negatives

  • Crabtree has battled injuries and inconsistency in prior seasons (in San Francisco)
  • At 29 years old, it's unlikely Crabtree will show further growth

Projections

YEAR GRSHYDTDTARGRECYDTDFumL
2013 SF 5 0 0 0 33 19 284 1  
2014 SF 16 1 4 0 108 68 698 4  
2015 OAK 16 0 0 0 146 85 922 9  
2016 PROJ-Dodds 16 3 15 0   68 796 7 1
2016 PROJ-Henry 16 0 0 0   76 860 7 0
2016 PROJ-Wood 16 0 0 0   77 990 7 0
2016 PROJ-Tremblay 16 0 0 0   81 893 7 1

Final Thoughts

Michael Crabtree was the 20th ranked receiver last year. He's healthy. His team rewarded him with a massive extension. The Raiders offensive supporting cast remains identical to last season. The coaches and offensive scheme remain intact. Why then would fantasy owners be projecting a major regression? If it's because you think the Raiders won't match last year's totals, so be it. Yet, Derek Carr and Amari Cooper are being drafted considerably higher this year than last year. There's no credible argument to be made for Crabtree regressing 20%+ while his two running mates in the same passing attack grow by leaps and bounds. At his current ADP, Crabtree makes a perfect WR3 and is needs only stay healthy to deliver meaningful value.

Other Viewpoints

Rotoworld's Evan Silva isn't as convinced that Crabtree offers value at his current ADP:

Crabtree annihilated camp and outplayed Cooper in the first half of the season (47-591-5). Just as Derek Carr slumped in the second half, so too did Crabtree (38-331-4). The Raiders still signed him to a four-year, $35 million extension in December, and Crabtree will return for his age-29 season in 2016. Last year's WR16 (PPR) and WR19 (non-PPR), Crabtree made his 2015 living on possession routes and volume, drawing 146 looks compared to Cooper's 130. If the Raiders throw less and the target pendulum swings to Cooper, Crabtree could lose quite a bit of fantasy steam. While Crabtree's WR35-37 Average Draft Position has stayed reasonable, his odds of becoming a true fantasy difference maker are low barring an injury to Cooper. I'm willing to consider Crabtree when he slips to the seventh round of 12-team drafts, and ignoring him at higher costs.

USA Today's Ryan Bonini offers 5 reasons to stop ignoring Crabtree:

With exciting third-year QB Derek Carr slinging the pigskin, the sky is the limit statistically for Oakland Raiders’ offense this season. It’s time fantasy football players change their previous poor perception — which was well deserved, mind you — about this squad. While everyone will be focusing on second-year WR Amari Cooper, a fantasy stud in the making, in the second-round of fantasy football drafts, it’s crucial not to over-look veteran WR Michael Crabtree.