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Spotlight: Michael Crabtree

posted by Mark Wimer on Aug 6th

Mark Wimer's thoughts

Michael Crabtree was one of the most anticipated rookie wide receivers in the last half-decade. He joined a young-but-improving offense that boasted (and still boasts) Vernon Davis at tight end and Frank Gore at running back, sparking hopes of a resurgence of the San Francisco offense (especially a resurgence of the passing offense).

However, three years later, fantasy owners are still waiting for Crabtree to break the 1,000-yard receiving barrier, and he hasn't come close that that level so far.

Year Gms Recs Yds YPR TDs
2009 11 48 625 13.0 2
2010 16 55 741 13.5 6

Those numbers equated to a 65th- and 36th-place finish among all fantasy receivers over the last two years - not exactly what Crabtree's fantasy owners had in mind.

So, what has gone wrong with Crabtree?

First of all, Crabtree hasn't had the benefit of a full training camp yet in his career. He held out as a rookie during 2009, not signing until October seventh and missing the first four games of 2009; and he was injured for much of training camp during 2010.

Secondly, there has been turmoil on the coaching staff - offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye was fired by Week Three of 2010, to be replaced by Mike Johnson. Almost the entire coaching staff was turned over during the 2011 offseason. New head coach Jim Harbaugh and new offensive coordinator Greg Roman are installing the latest 49ers' system - which is a return to the classic West Coast offense that personified the 49ers best years.

Thirdly, Crabtree and quarterback Alex Smith haven't been able to develop a solid working relationship so far during Crabtree's tenure with the 49ers.

Is anything changing heading into 2011?

Unfortunately, the 2011 season is shaping up to be a "same song, third verse" situation for Crabtree. He attended, but did not participate in players-only workouts organized by Smith during the lockout, citing a "sore foot", though at the time reports were that the foot injury was insignificant and that Crabtree was simply electing not to participate. Then, as training camp opened, the team revealed that Crabtree had a significant foot injury that would keep him sidelined four-to-six weeks, which means that he may miss all of preseason and possibly even the start of regular season. Obviously, not practicing while the team installs its latest new offense won't help Crabtree get off to a quick start during 2011. Also, the 49ers' new coaching staff elected to give Alex Smith another shot at starting for the team, which means that Crabtree will have to find a way to work with Smith once he is healthy enough to join the team - this is a proposition that hasn't been exciting for the last two years.

Additionally, the one thing that has changed for the team while Crabtree stands on the sidelines for yet another training camp is that the 49ers have brought in free agent Braylon Edwards on a one-year, $3.5 million "show me what you can do" deal. Edwards and Josh Morgan will get the starting reps in training camp, and if Edwards does well and if Morgan continues to impress, Crabtree could find himself in a backup role once he is ready to get on the field of play. Ted Ginn Jr. is still in the mix for San Francisco, too, and he has a year of experience with Smith now as well as value on special teams as a kick returner/punt returner. Basically, the depth chart at WR is by no means settled, and Crabtree won't have a chance to impress the new coaching staff from the sidelines. I can actually envision him landing at fourth on the depth chart to begin the regular season, perhaps even fifth.


  • Crabtree is still a young guy (he'll be 24 on September 14th) who has considerable natural abilities
  • The depth chart at wide receiver in San Francisco is wide open as of the start of training camp
  • Crabtree did improve his yards-per-reception average by half-a-yard during 2010 (to 13.5) and increased his TD totals from two during 2009 to six during 2010


  • Crabtree's propensity for being injured/missing training camp has surfaced yet again this year
  • The 49ers have brought in a capable free agent to challenge for playing time (Braylon Edwards) and they have some talented players behind Crabtree on the depth chart (Josh Morgan, Ted Ginn Jr.)
  • Either Alex Smith or rookie Colin Kaepernick will throw the football in San Francisco this year, and Smith hasn't shown rapport with Crabtree while Kaepernick will have had zero reps with Crabtree whenever Crabtree returns to action

Final thoughts

Michael Crabtree doesn't seem to have the requisite desire to excel at the NFL level (or at least, with the 49ers current organization/team he appears not to have it). He'll get on the field some this year, but don't expect to see him make a big splash in fantasy circles. I'm avoiding him in my drafts this season as he's 46th on my WR board currently, but I like other players around him on my board with more upside potential, rather than the sullen guy that Crabtree has turned out to be. I'm near the bottom of the range of Crabtree's rankings at, which ranges from 35th to unranked as of 8/6/11.

Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

rzrback77 said:

It seems to me to be a bit early to shut the door on Michael Crabtree. This is only his third season and although he hasn't yet shown greatness, there are several factors to consider. In his first season, he held out and did not attend the pre-season work and yet played solidly in 11 games, averaging 4.4 catches and 57 yards per game with two TDs.

In 2010, his per game averages dipped a little, but he led the team in targets with 101, but only caught 55 for 741 yards. He therefore had 13.5 yards per catch and his TDs went up to six. I don't watch many 49er games, but even with the outlandish behaviour at times by Singletary, the most constant that I heard voiced was the dissatisfaction with Alex Smith at QB. The judgment of Crabtree's play considering the ineffective performance at QB has to be at least considered as a factor.

I think that everyone is expecting improved offense with Coach Harbaugh, even if Alex Smith is back at QB and this should be a positive factor for Crabtree as well. I think that he will have a solid season and if his play is lauded by his Coach, he could be even more effective in future years as the QB play improves in San Francisco.

I think that one of his best attributes is as a red zone target in a more effective offense.

LHUCKS said:

He's the best WR on the team and under new HC Harbaugh the Niners will not be afraid to throw the ball in the worst defensive division in the NFL. I also believe Harbaugh is one helluva a coach and that he'll be able to give this offense some fluidity...which is just as important as Crabtree's ability is. The biggest risk here is Crabtree's attitude. If he brings the professionalism I don't think there's any reason Crabtree will not meet fantasty football's current expectations, which aren't very high.

MrTwo94 said:

Every year there are a few players who surprise. Some people here will claim to have seen it coming all along with 100% certainty. I'm not saying I'm one of those people or that Crabtree is one of those players. I just think that he is a guy with good potential to be one of those breakout players. He will likely be relatively forgotten after last year's disaster in SF. And he'll have some obstacles stacked against him, such as a new system with little time to learn it and another year with nothing more than a glimmer of hope for mediocre quarterback play. I'm still impressed with what he did his rookie year without training camp or preseason to get up to speed. I'm seeing him come off the boards around WR25 at this point (very early) and I think he's great value at that spot. All you can really expect there is maybe 65/800/5. I think it is a safe bet that he reaches those numbers with an outside chance to shatter them.

fightingillini said:

Great talent....questionable attitude. Classic high-risk, high reward player. Problem is his QB situation isn't any better with an average at best Alex Smith plus a rookie at QB. A type of guy that I like to gamble on as a WR3, but I think that he will go too early for that. There are still a lot of believers in Crabtree.

Zdravko said:

Just based on my anecdotal recollections, the impact of the Texas Tech offense was definitely considered strongly by evaluators both on the FF and the actual NFL side. Crabtree was still seen as a sure-fire top-15 pick with tremendous upside. And that was despite his age and while he was having surgery right before the draft.

So I am not buying the 'there-were-lots-of-early-question-marks' and 'I-told-you-so' talk. Sure, there was a doubter here and there. Even Peterson had doubters coming into the NFL. Yet, the strong consensus was that Crabtree had all the potential to be a stud WR.

I also disagree that what Crabtree has shown so far on the field suggests he is not an elite talent. Even the basic FF player knows to distinguish between talent/potential and production. Crabtree has definitely showed plenty flashes of brilliance to support his draft hype. His first season was very impressive, considering the circumstances. His second season was not as bad, statistically speaking, as some make it sound.

So the issue here is not talent, imo. The issue is: does Crabtree have the intangibles to capitalize on that talent? Dozens of great talents have hit the post-NFL unemployment line because of poor intangibles. So far, I don't think it looked promising, but I have to also consider the fact that Crabtree remains still very young and has some time to mature. I am also buying the expectation that badass Harbaugh will have a strong positive impact once the lockout is over.

So I'd say 75/1060/7 with a large +/- range on both sides.

I'd be surprised if he gets over 9 TDs, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if he approaches 100 catches, given his specific play style, Alex Smith's strengths, and the expected nature of the SF passing game.

Michael Crabtree projections

Mark Wimer40530500
Message board consensus70949700