It is a bad day for the San Francisco 49ers.
Only hours removed from the news that standout wide receiver Michael Crabtree suffered a torn Achilles tendon during last Tuesday's organized team activities, the 49ers learned that Crabtree could miss the entire 2013 season.
According to the same source, the extent of Crabtree's injury is not yet known and it remains to be seen how the injury and subsequent surgery and recovery will thwart his return to San Francisco's starting roster. What is known however is that Crabtree's injury has a significant impact on the 49ers' offense and begs plenty of questions surrounding their receiving corps.
There is no doubt that Crabtree would have started 2013 as the number one wide receiver on the blossoming San Francisco offense. One season removed from his 2012 campaign that saw 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns, Crabtree was poised for another great year hopefully complemented by a deeper group of receivers.
Now, Crabtree's injury forces the 49ers' hand and shall require the team to take an even tougher look at their wide receivers.
San Francisco learned last season what a depleted receiving corps could do to its chances. When fellow receivers Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams were lost to ACL injuries for the latter portion of the 2012 season, the 49ers became thin at the position. San Francisco's 2012 first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins failed to have an impact during the season and veteran Randy Moss looked nothing like the vaunted receiver he used to be earlier in his career.
San Francisco fans would have to look no further than the 49ers' last offensive drive during Super Bowl XLVII to see just how reliant the offense had become upon Crabtree.
Fortunately, the 49ers made some attempts during the offseason to correct the situation. They traded a sixth-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens in exchange for veteran wideout Anquan Boldin. San Francisco then drafted former Louisiana Tech wide receiver Quinton Patton in the fourth round of the draft. In addition, the 49ers know that both Manningham and Williams are hoping to return from their respective injuries suffered last year.
Despite the apparent positives, Crabtree's injury concerns and their effects remain legitimate.
In all likelihood, Boldin should emerge as the top receiver for quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers offense. Why would he be anything else? There is, of course, his age. At 32 years old, will he be able to perform at the same level like he did in 2012 with Baltimore? He did haul in 65 receptions for 921 yards and four touchdowns last year. San Francisco will hope that he can at least repeat or even exceed those numbers in 2013.
There are also the pending returns of both Manningham and Williams. Manningham, who developed chemistry with former 49er quarterback Alex Smith at the beginning of last season, is still questionable on his return for training camp. The same goes for Williams, although he recently ran again and the knee "felt great." This is potentially good news for San Francisco and hopefully indicates that both receivers should be able to step up in Crabtree's absence.
Yet there remains the questions surrounding Jenkins. Jenkins, who failed to record a single catch in 2012, has made significant efforts to have a better impact in 2013. One of those efforts included adding muscle to his frame and spending more time training for the regular season. If he impresses enough during preseason, it is not too far from possible that he could start alongside Boldin in the 49ers' offense. Provided that happens, Jenkins would look more like what San Francisco was hoping for when they used their first-round pick in the 2012 draft opposed to the potential "bust" moniker that he was headed towards.
Crabtree's injury may also put a lot of pressure on San Francisco's 2013 fourth-round draft pick Quinton Patton as well. The former Louisiana Tech wide-out was drafted to give the 49ers added depth at the position and potentially provide long-term solutions for San Francisco. Before Crabtree was injured, Patton may have remained a work-in-progress. Now, the 49ers may be putting more pressure on him to adapt to the NFL this season and contribute right away.
Patton totaled 183 receptions for 2,594 yards and 24 touchdowns at Louisiana Tech. Initially ranked by CBS Sports to go in the second round during the draft, San Francisco was able to sit on him and pick him up with a fourth-round pick instead. The 49ers hope Patton will play more like a second-round prospect this year.
The 49ers were also able to recently sign Patton, preventing any possibility of the rookie sitting out any portion of his first NFL season. At least that is good news moving forward and Patton should be able to openly compete with Jenkins on San Francisco's depth chart which should hopefully benefit both receivers in the long run.
There are also some tangible "wild cards" that the 49ers will have to consider. Chief among them is Ricardo Lockette. Lockette played his rookie season with the Seattle Seahawks but only made it on the field for two games and then found his way onto San Francisco's practice squad last year.
Lockette is raw and undeveloped, but he does have speed which is an element that may assist the slower Boldin on offense. In addition, Lockette spent much of the offseason working out with Kaepernick and there is hope that the two will build more chemistry on the field.
Other possible candidates to help fill Crabtree's void may be Marlon Moore and Chad Hall.
Of course the 49ers may be interested in making deals outside of their own camp if deemed necessary. Would they consider bringing back Randy Moss? Probably not, but stranger things have happened. Terrell Owens is out there somewhere, but that possibility deserves more laughs than anything else at this point. Brandon Lloyd is available as well, but could he replicate the season he had last year catching passes from Tom Brady?
San Francisco may also be potentially forced to trade one of their 2014 draft picks to acquire a wide receiver at any point between now and the regular season trading deadline.
While any of these scenarios remain to be determined, what is known is that the 49ers' receiving corps has been shaken up by the news of Crabtree's possible season-ending injury. Certain players will be required to step up and fill the void and there is the likelihood that the situation will warrant some added competition in the months and weeks before the regular season begins. Healthy competition is good right?
The 49ers would positively agree with that statement, but if asked, the team would certainly say they wished Crabtree was back.
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