Spotlight: Michael Crabtree

posted by Andrew Garda on Jun 1st


Andrew Garda's thoughts

Things didn't exactly go according to plan for Michael Crabtree's rookie season. An ill-conceived hold-out over his contract led to him missing the first portion of the 2009 season, which in turn slowed down and decreased his role in the offense when he did arrive. Still, he was able to have a solid impact in that limited amount of time - enough for a healthy dose of 'what if' among fantasy owners and 49ers faithful alike.

In just 11 games, Crabtree compiled 625 yards on 48 receptions. While his touchdown totals lacked (just a pair), Crabtree looked more and more confident as the season progressed. It may be impossible to know what Crabtree really could have done with a full 2009, but it isn't hard to imagine he would have flirted with 1,000 yards and 60-70 receptions.

Given what he has accomplished so far in a short time, it appears he has only scratched the surface of his talent. Once he inked his deal, by all reports Crabtree was a model citizen and hard worker. It showed.

This season, with the contract woes behind him and offseason of work with Alex Smith, Crabtree is poised to have an even bigger impact. A real training camp will only serve to increase his comfort and familiarity with the offensive scheme.

Of course, the things which made Crabtree impressive physically haven't changed. A fierce competitor, he has no problems going up for a ball and snatching it out of the air and away from defenders. He has shown the strength to break tackles and fight for an extra yard or two and while not a pure vertical threat, Crabtree did have nine receptions of 20 yards or more and I think we'll see more of that this season.

On the down side, Crabtree isn't the only big threat in this entire offense, much less the passing game. Vernon Davis also came on strong last season.

Consider this 'a good news/bad news' situation. The good news is that Davis will pull more defenders away from Crabtree than Josh Morgan or any of the other targets in the wide receiver or tight end corps. This will leave Crabtree open (or at least less covered) in key situations.

The bad news? Davis is probably going to remain Smith's target of choice in the red zone, given that they have played together longer and the two had most of last season to really get acquainted versus the shorter time for Smith and Crabtree.

So we'll see an increase from the two touchdowns for Crabtree but he may not see as many as he might if he wasn't paired with such a dynamic tight end.

Another factor will be just how much the ground attack takes over. Last year, with then new offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye in the building, the assumption was that the 49ers would turn into a rushing powerhouse. But even in the face of sub-par quarterback play, that never happened.

The question fantasy owners have to be wondering is, was that due to the injuries in the shallow running back corps or did Raye intentionally hew away from what was perceived to be his strength? The answer to that will impact Crabtree quite a bit. If Raye and Singletary rely on the ground game, Crabtree may see even less red zone targets and perhaps fewer overall chances. However, if the 49ers pass more than they run again (in 2009 it was a 527 to 329 difference) then Crabtree will have more value.

Aside from the competition for targets and question of offensive direction, a lot of Crabtree's value comes down to how Alex Smith plays. Smith will have the same offensive coordinator twice in a row for the first time in a very long time and it should help him continue to turn the corner. This is a go big or go home year for Smith and his success could make or break Crabtree's value.

Crabtree has the ability to succeed but it's easy to get lost in the immense potential and forget some of the negatives - in part because so many of those negatives aren't Crabtree's fault. Unfortunately that puts them out of his control as well.

Positives

  • Phenomenal Ability - Crabtree will fight hard for the ball in the air and has the power to force extra yards when he's on the ground. He's able to use his size to create plays and fight off defenders.
  • Big impact in short time in 09 - For a guy who was only around half a season, Crabtree did a ton. With a full offseason, camp and then a whole season he could be huge.
  • Featured WR - There is nobody close to his level in the wide receiver corps. He is the target in that group and as the top dog he's going to be Alex Smith's main WR target which could reap some big benefits.

Negatives

  • Shaky QB Situation - As much as Alex Smith seemed to take a step forward in 2009, he's yet to string together more than a few months of solid football, forget two seasons in a row. If Smith implodes, you don't have prettier options behind him in David Carr and an unproven Nate Davis.
  • Good ground game - While the run-first mentality never emerged last season, the acquisition of OG Mike Iupati and OT Anthony Davis signal a desire to increase the rushing attack's efficiency and perhaps focus on it a bit more, thereby controlling tempo and clock. That could mean less opportunities for Crabtree.
  • Still learning the position - All told, Crabtree has really only been playing the position for three years (four if you want to count his red shirt year in 2006). While he is an incredible, hard working athlete, he's still learning and a little behind some of his peers. The question is, will we see more of those growing pains as he sees more of the field in 2010?

Final thoughts

Michael Cratree enters the 2010 season with some very good momentum and a few significant question marks. One of the biggest questions is whether he can finally become the dominant wide receiver the 49ers expected last year when they took him tenth in the NFL Draft.

In my opinion, Crabtree will reach that promise and is due for a pretty significant year. I am convinced that he will not only crack the top 20 at his position, but make a hard run at the top 15. This is a tad higher than some of my compatriots here at the site, but not so far ahead that it seems impossible. He has the ability, and I feel like both he and the 49ers will come of age this year, making owners very happy they took him as their WR2.


Quotations from the message board thread

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

Thomsen said:

Alex Smith started 10 games last season, throwing 350 times. That is 35 attempts per game. With the emphasis on running the ball and probably winning a few more games, I would project the 49ers to throw about 30 times per game. Crabtree had about 8 targets per game, and I expect that to stay about the same, even with the reduced attempts. So 8 targets x 16 games= 128 targets. He caught 58% last season and that should improve now that he is more used to Smiths throwing, so let's say 60%. That amounts to about 76 catches.

Iwannabeacowboybaby! said:

It's hard not to like Michael Crabtree. The talented wide receiver impressed in college, came in late for his rookie season and stepped in and made an impact on a team that was not a great passing team.

I do think the 49ers are going to try and pound the ball more this year, hence the draft picks they went with this year but we all know how those kind of plans can go out the window depending how games go on the field.

Birdie048 said:

I am a huge Crabtree fan. Having only watch limited of his college games due to my being in ACC/SEC territory...

I own him in 2 of my 3 leaues. I plan to get him in my 3rd.

Reasons stated above are valid, but the projections are only listing marginal gains on his numbers... you have to add the talent, opportunity and influence factors for him to truely see his potential.

1) His biggest beef for holding out was his pay / draft slot (#10 vs wanting #7 $$). His contract has escalators that if he hits this year, he get the big $$ bonuses he wants. $ Motivation is a key factor.

2) Ego. How many Diva WR's don't have an ego that hardly fits in a cathedral? He is no different. But his knows where his bread is buttered. He feels he has something to prove. He wants to be better than the rest. His comments last year were directed at proving it. Now is the time.

3) Development is not always in a simple linear curve. He saw solid growth over the last 6 weeks. Imagine that growth with a year of work & development. A 10% improvement is selling him short. He could double his projected values, but realisticly, he should hit 30-40% improvement.


Michael Crabtree projections

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