Michael Crabtree is hoping for a bounce-back season after missing most of 2013 with an Achilles injury, but fantasy owners should not take the risk in drafting the San Francisco 49ers receiver.
The former first-round pick has dealt with various injury problems throughout his career, but none were as bad as last year. He was only able to return for the final five games of the regular season, where he managed just 19 catches for 284 yards and one touchdown.
According to Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee, the receiver admitted he was not at full strength last season:
Michael Crabtree said he was playing at 230 lbs last year after recovering from Achilles' tear. Ideal weight is 215. "I wasn't 100%" he said— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) August 16, 2014
However, Crabtree promises that this season will be different. According to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, the 26-year-old player explained, "It's going to be an exciting year. I can't wait to get out there."
Fantasy owners will certainly hope to see the talented player reach his potential. In 2012, Crabtree finished with 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns. Considering there was uncertainty at quarterback with Colin Kaepernick taking over for Alex Smith, these are impressive numbers.
With Kaepernick signing a six-year extension this offseason, the 49ers are clearly expecting a big season from the quarterback in his second full year as a starter.
The problem is that Crabtree still has a long way to go before becoming an elite fantasy option. Even at his best, he was still just the No. 14 player at his position in standard leagues, according to Pro Football Reference.
This is not a question of talent. He has shown flashes of brilliance every time he has been healthy since being selected with the No. 10 pick in the 2009 draft. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes his ability could help him get paid like a true No. 1 receiver:
Is Crabtree a No. 1 WR? Talent, yes. Injuries make it tough. He's willing to earn thru incentives top-end $$ rather than argue for that base— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 19, 2014
Unfortunately, he is unlikely to get the opportunity to put up the numbers he is capable of providing with the 49ers.
The first problem is that San Francisco utilizes a run-heavy approach to wear teams down and control possession as much as possible. The team ranked last in the league in passing attempts last season, and the addition of running back Carlos Hyde to pair with Pro Bowler Frank Gore could ensure a repeat in strategy.
Another issue is that the 49ers finally have other options in the passing game when they do throw the ball. Eric Edholm of Yahoo Sports breaks down the weapons on the roster:
Will be fascinating to see how #49ers offense evolves. Have Boldin, Crabtree, Davis and Stevie Johnson to throw to, plus 3 RBs who can roll.— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) July 16, 2014
In 2012, Crabtree was targeted more than twice as often as anyone else on the 49ers. With Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson available, plus tight end Vernon Davis, Kaepernick will be able to spread the ball around to everyone.
As a result, each player will have some big games while being almost invisible in others. Unlike the Denver Broncos from last season, this offense will not score enough to provide fantasy value for everyone.
Those looking for a consistent option in fantasy football will have to look in other places. According to ESPN, Crabtree has been the No. 53 pick in average drafts. However, the smart move is to wait to see if he is available in the seventh round or later, a point where you do not have to rely on him for production.
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