Alex Smith to Michael Crabtree: Both Due for Breakout Seasons

Clayton HollowayContributor IIIJune 13, 2011

Smith & Crabtree running off the field
Smith & Crabtree running off the field

When discussing great wide receivers, usually there is a great quarterback... in some cases.

Peyton Manning is that exception—he makes every receiver great.

Growing up my cousin and I would argue who is better at receiver Jerry Rice or Tim Brown? Naturally, being the 49ers fan that I am, my answer: Jerry Rice, obviously. My cousin is a Raiders fan.

My cousin's argument was Jerry Rice always had great quarterbacks; Joe Montana and Steve Young. He believed if Tim Brown had those quarterbacks as well, he'd be just as great, if not better than Rice. I disagree.

I dont believe one makes the other, I think it takes two to tango. Granted Joe Montana is considered the greatest quarterback ever and Steve Young is a Hall of Famer but regardless, Jerry Rice's work ethic and dedication set him miles apart from every other wide receiver to ever play the game. 

Tim Brown on the other hand was dealt some bad cards—a very talented receiver, drafted to a horrible team that was poorly managed and coached throughout the 1990's. Only until Rich Gannon arrived in Oakland, that was the first time in Brown's career he had a Pro Bowl quarterback. Tim Brown didnt necessarily put up the best numbers with Gannon but together, they became a feared offense and Tim Brown finally reached his first Super Bowl.

Now this brings me to Alex Smith and Michael Crabtree.

The two have been in the news lately because Crabtree didnt initially show up to the team work out that Alex Smith organized. Apparently the two havent seen eye to eye on some things, Im honestly not reading into it. Were all strung out with this lock-out and any football news is news and we all eat it up.

The problem is, neither Smith or Crabtree have lived up to their potential. Not because they are busts but the lack of chemistry has been the consistent in San Francisco for the last couple of years now, especially with Smith. Whether it is inconsistency on the offensive line, play-calling or more importantly... the coaching. Which ever way you want to look at it, San Francisco has indeed endured some dire straits.

Alex Smith has received most of the criticism for San Francisco's failures mainly because he is the quarterback. Its natural but being the football aficionado that I am, I don't look at picture black and white. I consider all the variables and with Smith's career there have been a lot of variables:

Five different coordinators in five years. Three new head coaches. Drafted to a team with no identity. No veteran leadership. No real weapons at the WR position. No veteran quarterback to sit the bench and learn from. Thrown to the wolves to start his rookie year. Injuries. Coached by defensive minded Head Coaches and the list goes on and on.

Its now 2011 and Smith has been in the league six years now. His numbers have been getting slightly better after each season. Now bring in Jim Harbaugh...

Jim Harbaugh is the guy that will get Smith and Crabtree on the same page. More importantly, he is the coach and leader that will get San Francisco to the playoffs in his very first year as Head Coach. Guaranteed.

Bold prediction? Not really. All the pieces are in place, the talent is there, it just takes the right gameplan and right coaching staff to maximize their potential, offensively and defensively.

Jim Harbaugh was an NFL quarterback and he knows what it takes to succeed in the NFL. His career along with Alex Smith's was rocky for the first five years or so. So he knows what Smith is going through. The perfect mental and vocal leader for Alex Smith.

You know who else had a slow start to their career only to resurrect it years later; Rich Gannon.

When Rich Gannon teamed up with the Oakland Raiders and Jon Gruden an offensive-minded Head Coach, that is when he became a Pro Bowler and a statistical threat. Not to mention, Oakland was a very talented on both sides of the ball as is San Francisco, they just needed the right Head Coach.

Now where does Crabtree fit into this equation?

Crabtree is an undeniable talent, no question. Great hands, huge knowledge for the game, great route runner and great speed when the ball is in his hands. Reminds me of Tim Brown in many ways.

Is Crabtree Tim Brown? No. But Tim Brown had a slow start to his career as well, they both possess similar physical size and football attributes.

Crabtree's problem is that he is young and a diva. Pretty common in the NFL. Look at Terrell Owens. He too put up average numbers his first couple of years in San Francisco. So did Vernon Davis his first two years in the league but they grew up. Give Crabtree some time, he's young.

Look, I'm not saying Alex Smith is Steve Young or Rich Gannon. And Im not saying Crabtree is Jerry Rice, Tim Brown or Terrell Owens for that matter. But if you mix all of this up, compare the numbers and look at the trends; its not a far reach to say Alex Smith and Michael Crabtree are due for breakout years.

Both players have limitless potential that has yet to be maximized. Together, they will only make each other better... and this is their year!