Michael Crabtree's Eventual Return Doesn't Make Him Automatic Fantasy Play

Mike MoraitisAnalyst INovember 5, 2013

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 03:  Michael Crabtree #15 of the San Francisco 49ers stands on the field against the Baltimore Ravens during Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 3, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It has been a long and difficult road for the San Francisco 49ers without their top wide receiver, Michael Crabtree, but it appears the end is near regarding his absence from the team.

According to Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee, Crabtree could be on track to return as soon as mid-November and as late as early December from his torn Achilles injury:

Given the parameters of the NFL's physically-unable-to-perform list, the latest Crabtree can begin practicing is Tuesday, Nov. 19, two days after the 49ers visit the New Orleans Saints. At that point, the team has a three-week window to activate Crabtree, who had surgery on his Achilles' on May 22. The full three weeks would be Dec. 9, one day after the team's rematch with the Seahawks at Candlestick Park. If they don't activate him at that point, Crabtree would be shut down for the rest of the season and the playoffs.

As Barrows points out, Crabtree will be at the 24-week mark on Nov. 6, and that is the earliest that he can return. However, it appears the Niners won't jump the gun and allow him to return just yet, so don't expect a Week 10 return.

Oct 27, 2013; London, United Kingdom; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) celebrates with tight end Vernon Davis (85) after scoring a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. Mand
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Crabtree's importance to his team is unmistakable at this point. Without him, the Niners and quarterback Colin Kaepernick are ranked dead last in the NFL through the air and can use all the help they can get by increasing the third-year signal-caller's targets.  

Not only was Crabtree the only 49er receiver to break the 1,000-yard mark in 2012-13, thus cementing himself as Kaepernick's No. 1 guy, but he also has seen the second-most targets the past two seasons, as Bill Williamson of ESPN tweeted:

How much #49ers miss Michael Crabtree? He is the second most targeted receiver in the NFL over the past two seasons at 34.5 percent.

— Bill Williamson (@BWilliamsonESPN) October 30, 2013

So, there is some real value in Crabtree for fantasy owners, and making a move now to stash him on your roster if you haven't already isn't a bad move. The only problem is that Crabtree may not be that big of an asset in the regular season and is instead a more reliable option for your respective playoff run.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 03:  Michael Crabtree #15 of the San Francisco 49ers runs for yards after the catch past Ray Lewis #52 of the Baltimore Ravens during Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 3, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Crabtree will take time to get into game shape even when he is cleared to play. It will have been a long time since he has taken the field in a game (Feb. 3, 2013), and he likely needs to get into the flow of the Niners offense before he can make a serious impact.

And, depending on when your playoffs are, Crabtree may only have a small window to actually be an effective player on fantasy rosters, as many leagues could be starting playoffs by Week 12, depending on the format.

To make matters worse, the Niners' future opponents around the time Crabtree will return are no slouches against the pass. Teams like the New Orleans Saints, St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks all own top-10 rankings against the pass. 

But if Crabtree can make his return before your playoffs begin with a few weeks under his belt beforehand, he could be the difference-maker on your roster as you march toward the coveted fantasy football Super Bowl near the end of the NFL's regular season.

There is a low-risk, high-reward scenario when dealing with Crabtree this season. Pick him up if he's available, but just make sure he has enough time to get his feet wet before depending on him for a big performance.