Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press/Associated Press
49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh watches intently in the background at star wideout Michael Crabtree during a May OTA.
Remain patient while we hazard a brief trip down gridiron memory lane.
Call it shallow, but the life of a top-10 draft pick isn’t easy during the early going.
The preseason hype, midseason expectations and postseason pressure all pose formidable obstacles for highly talented—but still unproven—young stars.
These overexposed first-year players often compound their situations by holding out for better deals, underperforming on the field and earning diva-like reputations. This is especially true of wide receivers.
Enter Michael Crabtree.
San Francisco’s 10th overall selection in 2009 did not justify his upper-echelon draft status as a rookie.
His 71-day contract holdout reduced his season to just 11 games. He finished with a rather lackluster 48 catches for 625 yards and two touchdowns.
But to his credit, he matured and steadily increased his production after Tear 1.
He overcame personal demons, poor quarterback play, head coaching changes and general team-wide instability—culminating with career highs in receptions (85), yards (1,105) and touchdowns (nine) in 2012.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) awarded him the No. 7 ranking among 105 wideouts graded. He helped Alex Smith and Kaepernick achieve the fourth-best quarterback rating when targeting him (119.5) while notching the third-highest yards per route run.
After four arduous NFL campaigns, Crabtree had finally made it.
Then it all came crashing down.
He tore his Achilles tendon during offseason workouts and missed the first 11 games last year. A mere 19 catches for 284 yards and one score were the disappointing fruits of his shortened regular season.
Totaling a personal playoff-high 125 yards against the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card Round wasn’t enough. A forgettable NFC Championship Game performance two weeks later would elevate outside pressure yet again for a rebound campaign in 2014.
Fast-forward to today, and playing in a contract year as the supposed No. 1 wideout on a Super Bowl contender won’t allow for anything else. He must put up big-time numbers.
And now that the 49ers feature a seven-deep pass-catching arsenal and four-deep corps of backfield studs, there are only so many places Kaepernick can go with the ball.
So, in the spirit of bold prognostications—“slightly less” or otherwise—Crabtree will outshine the likes of Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson, Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington, Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald. He’ll catch more passes, compile more receiving yards and haul in more touchdowns.
On a well-documented run-first offense that has more receivers than it knows what to do with, Crabtree amassing 1,200 yards and 10 scores is plenty bold.
Do you agree?