How San Francisco 49ers Losing Michael Crabtree Still Leaves Room for Optimism
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USA Today first reported that Crabtree had torn his right Achilles tendon on a basic seven-on-seven drill during Tuesday’s organized team activities. He immediately underwent surgery and is expected to miss up to six months, according to Mike Garafolo of USA Today.
The 49ers will now hit the gridiron without their first 1,000-yard receiver since Terrell Owens' 1,102-yard campaign in 2003. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick will not have the services of his most trusted target during his first full season as a starter.
Crabtree produced his two highest game totals for receptions, three of his four highest averages per catch and four of his five best receiving outputs for total yards with Kaepernick as his quarterback. He also hauled in the majority of his touchdowns from the dual-threat QB.
More illuminating are Kaepernick’s 606 passing yards and five touchdowns landing in the hands of No. 15, which represented one-third and one-half of his season-long production, respectively.
Kaepernick continued targeting his favorite weapon throughout the playoffs. Crabtree commanded 28 throws, bringing in 20 for 285 yards and three scores.
Again, how can San Francisco find optimism in these seemingly dire circumstances?
Because the Jim Harbaugh-led 49ers feature a tight end-friendly, power-run offense that derives its mojo from a quarterback who can do it all and a defense that sends opponents packing with tourniquets and pain killers.
A thoroughly talented receiver corps—albeit young and returning from injury—should not be undervalued as well.
Think: multiple tight end sets with all-world Vernon Davis and high-round draftee Vance McDonald; triple-headed backfield of Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James; Super Bowl-winning wideouts Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham; a ferocious defense boasting All-Pros Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.
Oh, and one Colin Kaepernick— a quarterback with the biggest arm, pre-eminent speed and most game-breaking ability.
Now let’s realize our inner devil’s advocate.
What happens if Davis—the most dynamic weapon in this offense—doesn’t establish rapport with Kaepernick, as was evidenced last year?
What if Gore wears down significantly, Hunter experiences difficulty recovering from his own Achilles tear and defenses neutralize James in year two?
Will Boldin make that big of an impact in his first season with the 49ers?
Can an injury-plagued Manningham and Kyle Williams and an inexperienced receiving unit of A.J. Jenkins, Quinton Patton and Ricardo Lockette pick up the pieces?
And will this defense, even with all the draft reinforcements, dominate as thoroughly as it did for the majority of 2012?
In a word (or two): no in response to the negative and yes to the affirmative.
How many games will the 49ers win in 2013?
The 49ers are still a viable Super Bowl contender without Crabtree for the majority of the season. An 11-win total in the regular season was a reasonable projection before the Achilles tear and remains a likely scenario post-injury.
San Francisco’s championship aspirations will certainly be harder to attain. And the competitive balance in the NFC West, the NFL’s top division, increased as a result.
But the 49ers’ heart and soul does not materialize through a wide receiver, however great he was a season before.
Harbaugh will devise the appropriate game plan, Kaepernick will execute it and the league’s most feared defense will ensure winning results on a weekly basis.
Sometimes you just have to let optimism reign supreme in the face of overwrought gloom and doom.
Follow me on Twitter @jlevitt16
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