San Francisco 49ers: 4 Potential Replacements for Michael Crabtree
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick's favorite target shockingly succumbed to a devastating injury in a stunning twist, one that has left the 49ers scrambling to find a replacement. The 49ers acquired Anquan Boldin (who will start at one of San Francisco's two outside receiver spots) in the offseason, and they added some playmakers in the draft as well.
But can anyone step up and help make up for the loss of Crabtree, who caught 55 passes for 823 yards and seven touchdowns in his last eight games? It will be hard to replace him, but it can be done.
Here are four possible receivers who can step up alongside Boldin and assume Crabtree's role.
Quinton Patton was drafted in the fourth round of this year's draft, and he may take some time to get settled in. However, if Patton can get going right away, he can take over a huge role.
The wide receiver proved to be a dominant pass-catcher at Louisiana Tech, as he hauled in 104 passes. In a game against Texas A&M, he caught 21 passes for 233 yards. Patton has the hands to make hard catches, and he can definitely develop good chemistry with Kaepernick right off the bat. Kaepernick and Crabtree clicked immediately, and there's reason to believe that Kaepernick and Patton can do the same.
In addition to his spectacular pass-catching ability, Patton has the speed to break free from fast defensive backs. He ran a decent 4.48 40-yard dash, and if he can shape up his route-running, he should be able to make an impact from the get-go. With open competition, Patton has a great shot to seize Crabtree's former role.
I expect Patton to rise to the occasion and step up in a big way. If Patton can do what he did in college and avoid getting fazed by the NFL, starting immediately is a possibility.
Even if he doesn't play much immediately, he may be eased into the NFL if another receiver emerges as a prime candidate to start, and Patton could be on the field for a large chunk of the snaps by the time Crabtree returns. The athletic ability and talent is there; Patton just has to improve in some key areas and work hard.
A.J. Jenkins was expected to make an impact in 2012, but he failed to do so. Luckily for San Francisco's first-round draft pick, he has a chance to redeem himself.
Jenkins caught 90 passes for 1,276 yards in his senior season with the Illinois Fighting Illini, but he was only targeted once with the 49ers in 2012.
The wide receiver ran a 4.41 40-yard dash at the 2012 NFL Combine and posted a remarkable 38.5" vertical leap. Jenkins trained and lived with Kaepernick this offseason, and it would be reasonable to assume that the two will continue to work together to develop good chemistry.
The two have the potential to become a dominant duo. Jenkins caught a pass of at least 20 yards in 10 of his 13 games during his senior year, and he caught six passes for 182 yards and 12 for 268 yards in back-to-back games with the Fighting Illini. Jenkins can take over a game, which is exactly what the 49ers need.
General manager Trent Baalke said that Jenkins has the work ethic to succeed, which is a key component to, well, success.
Jenkins produced in college, and everything is set up for him to step up right now. Illinois didn't have a star quarterback when Jenkins was there, but he still managed to produce and catch San Francisco's eye.
San Francisco spent its 2012 first-round draft pick on Jenkins, and he knows that the organization thinks he can become a key asset to the offense. Kaepernick and Jenkins can definitely click, as they lived together for two months this offseason. After bulking up a bit, learning from Boldin and soaking up all of the action from the sidelines in his rookie year, Jenkins is ready to break out.
And unless he suffers the same fate as Crabtree, there's no reason to believe that Jenkins can't rise to the occasion.
Brandon Lloyd didn't turn many heads in New England, but the veteran could take over a big role during Crabtree's absence if the 49ers decide to pursue him.
The former 49er caught 74 passes in 2012 with the Patriots, but the Patriots and Lloyd parted ways after the season. Lloyd is still available, and he would be a great fit in San Francisco. Crabtree made big, game-changing plays, and Lloyd knows how to do the same thing. In 2010, despite having a mediocre quarterback in Kyle Orton, Lloyd averaged an insane 18.8 yards per catch (YPC) and led the league in receiving yards.
With Lloyd and Boldin, the passing attack would be able to maintain its dominance. Lloyd's career average of 14.8 YPC leaves nothing to be desired, and his experience will help as well. Kaepernick knows how to get on the same page as his receivers, and the same can happen with Lloyd.
Having an experienced veteran who can make spectacular catches would definitely help Kaepernick and the offense stay strong. Lloyd and Crabtree are somewhat similar, and while Crabtree has done more lately, Lloyd has more experience under his belt and has averaged about two more YPC than Crabtree over the course of their respective careers.
Attitude is a concern, but Jim Harbaugh could definitely control Lloyd. Being on a winning team will also help satisfy Lloyd, who had never played in a playoff game before 2012. If Lloyd proved to be a headache, Harbaugh would take action. However, there's a good chance he wouldn't need to.
Yes, Crabtree is younger, and yes, Crabtree is better. However, with almost three months of free agency in the books, Lloyd would definitely be classified as a steal. For a team in need of a wide receiver to take a big role for two months of games, Lloyd would be a perfect fit.
Unlike Lloyd, Ricardo Lockette has a paucity of experience. However, he doesn't lack talent.
Lockette, who also lived with Kaepernick and Jenkins for two months, caught two passes for 105 yards and a touchdown in 2011 with the Seattle Seahawks. Lockette went to Fort Valley State, and he didn't do much there or with the Seahawks. The former track champion is extremely raw, but he has the ability to help the team.
Harbaugh seems to think Lockette can be an impact player, and others think he can take over a game as well. The track star runs a blazing 4.34 40-yard dash, weighs 211 pounds and is 6'2", so the physical tools are there. Lockette averaged a stellar 12.83 yards per catch in college, and he averaged 14.6 yards per catch in 2008.
While Lockette was inconsistent and didn't put up great numbers in college, he can blow by corners and make catches, which will allow him to blossom into a difference-maker.
If Lockette can prove to be consistent, he'll help. Boldin will likely take the opponent's best defensive back, which would allow Lockette to benefit from favorable matchups against weaker defensive backs.
Don't expect Lockette to become the next Calvin Johnson, and don't expect him to contribute consistently or emerge as Kaepernick's top target. However, expect Lockette to see the field a lot, and don't be surprised if he blossoms into one of San Francisco's better receivers.
Lockette isn't likely to snatch Crabtree's spot and keep it, but he is likely to contribute and even potentially take over games. Lockette is someone to keep an eye on, as he can develop into a key asset with proper coaching and a good work ethic.