As a two-time Fred Biletnikoff Award winner and 2007 NCAA single-season leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches, Crabtree was the purported real deal coming out of Texas Tech.
It was hard to argue with a two-year production of 3,127 yards and 41 touchdowns.
The 49ers certainly didn’t—he was San Francisco’s first-round pick at No. 10 overall in 2009.
Yet Crabtree scoffed at any notion of rookie humility by holding out the first four weeks of his rookie season. He then missed the next two 49ers training camps with a neck and foot injury, respectively.
Despite upping his total from 625 to 741 to 874 yards receiving in his first three years, Crabtree never embodied the role of a true No. 1 receiver. He produced just three 100-yard outings and had only two games with multiple touchdowns.
Worse yet, his first two games in the postseason produced a total of 28 yards, two drops and five catches out of 12 targets. His TD grab against the Saints was really an afterthought compared to all the other shortcomings.
So, through three seasons, Crabtree had the reputation of a solid possession receiver, but he was certainly not the dynamic threat that instilled fear in the hearts of opposing defenses.
And then came 2012.
Crabtree has thus far matched his three-year production in less than a full season.
His 100-plus yard, one-TD game against Buffalo was the best receiving output on the gridiron from both teams. It showcased his increasingly effective shiftiness in the open field and big-play ability.
Against the Cardinals three weeks later, Crabtree hauled in all five passes thrown his way en route to the highest-rated offensive performance by any player that game, according to Pro Football Focus (membership required).
That rating was the result of his 3-of-3, two-touchdown production when matched up with Patrick Peterson—the Cardinals' shutdown cornerback.
To put Crabtree’s day in proper perspective, Peterson has allowed a mere 53.1 completion percentage, has picked off seven passes and has forced the lowest efficiency rating (54.5) among corners with 80 or more targets, according to PFF.
He basically made one of the premier corners in the entire league look below-average.
And finally, in the biggest game of the year for the 49ers, against a Patriots team that hadn’t lost at home in December in 10 years, Crabtree had his best outing do date.
He helped dismantle the vaunted Patriots with seven catches and 107 yards in the 49ers' 41-34 triumph in Week 15.
But it was his two touchdowns that showcased Crabtree’s newfound status.
The first TD required a nifty double-move, followed by deftly positioning himself in between zone coverage and—if it wasn’t difficult enough already—securing a 60-mile-per-hour throw (literally) in the end zone with two safeties barreling toward him.
Crabtree’s second touchdown grab was even more impressive—and impactful.
New England had just roared back from 28 down, seized momentum and tied the score at 31 all.
Crabtree would have none of it.
He astutely cut off his route on a Patriots blitz, snared a Colin Kaepernick rocket just off his shoe-tops and showcased his yards-after-the-catch prowess by outmaneuvering Kyle Arrington en route to a 38-yard TD.
Let’s just call it a game-winner in one of the biggest games of his career.
By torching the Patriots—an annual NFL supremacy and anointed top dog this season—Crabtree solidified his emergence as the 49ers’ true No. 1 wideout, and his status as a top-flight wide receiver in the National Football League.
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