Given the lack of progress in the contract talks between the San Francisco 49ers and their wayward first round draft pick, Michael Crabtree, it's easy for some fans and media analysts to say the pick itself was a bad choice.
After all, just a short time before the draft the Cleveland Browns came out with the news that they would be passing on Crabtree in the draft and the rumors were out there that Crabtree was a diva and his attitude (rather than his lingering foot injury) were what had turned the team off.
So if hindsight is 20/20, this should have warned the Niners off like it may have the nine teams which preceded them right?
Well, not so fast. As bad as the holdout is, here are three reasons why Michael Crabtree was and remains the right pick for the 49ers at the 10th spot in the draft.
The 49ers haven't had a dominant wide receiver since Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice left town. They've had good players. Hard workers. But game changing wideouts? No, not in some time.
He made big plays in big moments when the game was on the line and it really counted. Crabtree is a tough, physical wide receiver who is equally willing to throw a block as he is to fight off a defensive back for a ball.
When it comes down to it, the 49ers needed a player at the receiver position who could make things happen. Crabtree's leaping ability and hands made him an asset to the offense immediately.
Vernon Davis is always on the cusp on greatness but can't quite reach it. Josh Morgan is a project they hope will shine this season, but isn't a sure thing. Isaac Bruce was ready to call it quits this offseason and had to be talked back into playing.
Arnaz Battle, Jason Hill, Brandon Jones—all receivers who have played well at times but always came back to the pack due to injury or just reality.
How many times has this team searched for a new top wide receiver with a free agent like Bryant Johnson, Darrell Jackson, or Ashlie Lelie hoping they could ignite a player's career? It hasn't worked out so well, has it?
They need a difference-maker at wide receiver. They need to stop picking over other team's cast-offs hoping for a diamond in the rough.
When Crabtree fell to the 49ers at 10, what could they do? They need what he brings.
Crabtree was about as dominant a wide receiver as you can ask for coming out of Texas Tech. The unanimous All-Big 12 Conference first-team pick earned his second straight Biletnikoff Award (given to Nation's best wide receiver) in a row and was ranked sixth in the nation and second in the league with a 7.46 receptions per game average.
This is what he brings to the table and this is why he fills that first point—need—for the 49ers. The team cannot just send Frank Gore (and now Glenn Coffee) in carry after carry in the red zone.
They need a player who can step up and make a defense take notice. A player who will back the opposing defense off the line. Crabtree has that ability.
I don't mean to knock guys like Morgan (who I am very high on) or Battle. But when it comes down to it, they don't attract the attention Crabtree does.
When Crabtree steps on the field, a team has to notice it and make adjustments in a way they don't with the aforementioned players. Even Bruce, who is far past his prime now but still effective, does not gain the attention of he defense like that.
Here's some of what Crabtree did for Texas Tech while on the field in 2008: He had 44 catches of at least 10 yards, including 11 catches of 20 yards or more. He had a total of 60 first-down catches, 16 in the red zone. He converted 11-of-20 third down catches for firsts and three of four fourth down targets were caught for firsts.
Crabtree has the talent and ability to make a difference. Again—and this goes back to need—what he can do isn't something the receivers on the team currently can do and those who can (like Bruce) won't be in the Bay Area much longer.
Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. When arguably the top wide receiver in the draft for whatever reason drops into your lap and you need him, you take him.
With the exception of the foot injury, what really was the drawback? So Mangini was put off by his attitude. So Cleveland had written him off.
Are the Browns suddenly paragons of Drafting perfection? We're not talking Bill Belichick here. Mangini has proven he can miss on players. Vernon Gholston anyone?
Teams miss, even the mighty Patriots. Just because one team (or even more than one) pass on a player does not necessarily diminish his value.
Looking at the way things had fallen in the Draft, it really was an obvious pick.
As I mentioned before, the team knows Bruce wouldn't be around much longer. The current crop of wideouts were serviceable, though unspectacular. There was and is a ton of hope for some of these guys, but this is a team who is trying to build something and 'hope' doesn't get a first down on third and long.
There were no quarterbacks worth the 10th pick after Stafford and Sanchez had gone at numbers one and five respectively. Perhaps Aaron or Brian Orakpo might have been good fits and maybe if BJ Raji had dropped they would have grabbed him.
But remember that Coach Mike Singletary is often a fixture at College Prospect events like the Senior Bowl, often working with the defense. If he didn't jump on these guys, there is an even chance he had seen something he wasn't in love with.
Meanwhile, Crabtree was reportedly high on the San Francisco draft board.
Is he a diva? Looks that way. But how many top wide receivers in this day and age aren't?
Also if you follow the beat reporters covering the 49ers, Crabtree isn't out partying and eating loads of junk food while playing Madden. By all reports, Crabtree is hard at work—in the Bay Area no less—and planning on being physically ready to go when he signs.
While the contract issue is easy to point to as a sign of a problematic athlete, the fact that he's out grabbing former Pro Quarterbacks like Trent Dilfer is a sign he's willing to work and work hard. Ego or not, he's a worker and that dedication will make a huge difference when he does sign.
He'll still have a long way to go to catch up with the team in terms of plays, X's and O's but he'll be physically ready to go. That says a lot.
When a player of Crabtree's calibre drops to you in the draft, sometimes you stop looking for reasons why he did and just take him. You have to trust your Scouts.
Given the last few contentious, stalemated months, it's easy to play Devil's Advocate and say 'Boy was Crabtree the wrong guy for US'. But putting aside the issues signing him, many of the facts do not support that. Crabtree is an enormously talented player (albeit, clearly with an enormous ego as well).
He's a piece the 49ers needed and it was good luck for him to fall where he did.
Maybe this will end with him trying his luck in the 2010 Draft. Maybe he'll get the money he wants from the 49ers due to an injury or maybe he buckles when the games go this weekend and he's not on the field.
Even if he does go back into the Draft, the team will receive compensation in the form of Draft picks. So while it would be disappointing, it would be far from a disaster.
It won't have cost them money either.
It's one thing if they sign him and he implodes like Charles Rogers, Ryan Leaf or Todd Marinovich. It's another if he never signs and never plays for the team. They didn't lose millions of dollars in guaranteed money like the aforementioned players. All they lost was opportunity.
Regardless of the outcome, choosing Micheal Crabtree with the tenth pick of the 2009 NFL Draft was the right move in April. In my opinion it remains so, despite the contract impasse and Crabtree's absence.
Just because it has dissolved into a bad situation does not mean it was a bad pick.