A single tree can not stand alone.
Michael Crabtree came to the San Francisco 49ers from the 2009 NFL Draft with high expectations and (unfortunately) high demands. At the time, the selection of Crabtree was lauded by the media and fans as the steal of the draft, the shot of adrenaline to a moribund Jimmy Raye led offense. Fast forward three seasons of rotating coordinators, nagging foot problems, questioned conditioning, and pedestrian statistics, Crabtree is now firmly planted on the hot seat. Fans and media alike have jumped off his bandwagon with both feet, and look towards Harbaugh’s new speedy toys as the future.
Much like Alex Smith last year (and every year before that), Crabtree faces his doubters head on with the determination and a drive to be the player he was drafted to be. With the hiring of offensive minded Jim Harbaugh, Smith was his first challenge. Early returns are positive as Smith rose above the doubt and led the 2011 squad to a 13-3 record and the doorstep of the Super Bowl. Entering 2012, Smith is firmly entrenched as the starter and leader. Project completed. Meanwhile the most glaring weakness coming out of the playoff run was the production of the wide receivers and the increased reliance on the tight ends… so a new project was born. On the surface it appeared as though Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke have remade the receiving corp to overcome Crabtree’s deficiencies, and rebuild based on speed. However the more optimistic view would be that these new pieces would complement Crabtree’s current skill-set and a catalyst for his development. Coming out his acclaimed Texas Tech career, Crabtree was never known to be a speedy receiver, the scouts pegged him as a physical receiver with play-making ability after the catch and hands of glue, at the very least an elite possession receiver.
2009: 11 games, 48 catches, 625 yards, 2 TDs, 13.0 ypc.
2010: 16 games, 55 catches, 741 yards, 6 TDs, 13.5 ypc.
2011: 15 games, 72 catches, 874 yards,4 TDs, 12.1 ypc.
While his statistics are trending towards “elite possession” receiver, the moves made by Trent Baalke may steer Crabtree back into the “elite playmaker” path. Armed with an underdog determination from a humbling postseason and a full training camp and offseason (knock on wood), Crabtree will enter the season as a dark-horse top 15 wide receiver, for those familiar with fantasy football. Unlike the previous years, he will not have the pressure of being the #1 receiver, and will not be competing for real estate in a crowded short-intermediate tiers. Baalke’s acquisition of Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, and AJ Jenkins is a calculated move to take the focus of opposing defenses off of Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, and Crabtree… previously the only playmakers of concern on the 49ers offense. Here’s hoping Baalke and Harbaugh’s latest project is a success and Crabtree takes that next step.
2012 Prediction: 16 games, 82 catches, 1140 yards, 8 TDs, 14.2 ypc.