What Can 49ers Fans Possibly Expect from Michael Crabtree?

Michael ErlerCorrespondent IOctober 7, 2009

SANTA CLARA, CA - MAY 01:  Michael Crabtree #15 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on at practice during the 49ers Minicamp at their training facilities on May 1, 2009 in Santa Clara, California. Crabtree was the 49ers first round draft pick.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Now that it appears that the question of “where” as in “where’s he going to play?” has been settled in the matter of Michael Crabtree v. San Francisco 49ers, we can move on to more interesting queries.

For example, let’s start with “who.”

Who was the brains of the Crabtree-Eugene Parker scheme to bluff the 49ers into offering crazy money or a “Get Out of Jail” card to some other team with deeper pockets and a wide receiver-friendly offense?

My guess all along was Deion Sanders, but now I’m thinking it might have been MC Hammer this whole time.

What, was Lenny Dykstra unavailable?

The “why” shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out, even for homer 49ers fans—it was about the money.

With 231 receptions for 3,127 yards and 41 touchdowns in just two collegiate seasons, Crabtree was clearly the most accomplished receiver in last year’s class and had every right to feel insulted that fellow wideout Darius Heyward-Bay was taken three spots ahead of him in the draft.

The only person in the entire galaxy who felt differently about the two gentlemen in question was Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, who took Heyward-Bay with the seventh pick and then gave him the kind of contract one typically offers when looking to launder a whole pile of dirty money.

Lest you judge Crabtree and his agent for being too selfish and delusional, their gamble wasn’t only the right move but probably one that would’ve worked if the 49ers organization hadn’t found their collective spines late last season, first by putting someone who actually cares in charge in Jed York, and secondly by hiring a coach in Mike Singletary who just frankly intimidates the hell out of everyone.

No matter how convincingly Camp Crabtree tried to bluff, with Singletary aboard the 49ers weren’t about to fold.

The “how” also casts Crabtree in somewhat of a sympathetic light. How could he expect to reach any of his incentive clauses (or “escalators” as people in the biz call them) playing in such a conservative offense?

In his dozen years as an offensive coordinator, spanning six different teams, Jimmy Raye has had only four wide receivers catch over 60 passes in a season. It’s a strong bet that it won’t happen this year either.

Raye and Singletary simply don’t trust Shaun Hill very much. Or rather, they trust him plenty but not his pedestrian right arm. They aren’t at all convinced the guys in front of Hill can protect him, and rightly so.

With a conservative playbook, a quarterback who can’t throw the ball outside of the numbers and a line that won’t give Hill to take a five-step drop, why would Crabtree want to ply his trade here?

Fifty-five catches for 800 yards and 7 TDs here might translate to 80-1200-13 in Dallas, but it’s certainly not going to get Crabtree invited to any Pro Bowls, and when he hits his walk year, how will Parker convince anyone to grade his guy on a curve?

Of course 49ers fans don’t care about any of this. They want to know “when,” as in “when is Crabtree gonna play?”

The safe bet is Oct. 25 at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, against the Texans.

The “bye” week comes at a perfect time for San Francisco, right after Sunday’s game versus the Atlanta Falcons, and it should give Crabtree time to immerse himself in the playbook, run some routes to with third quarterback Nate Davis (the two reportedly struck up a friendship during minicamp), and to work enough to get his legs under him.

Matt Maiocco, the team’s longtime beat writer for The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, said that he doesn’t expect Crabtree to start at any point this season but that the 49ers, “can teach him several specific routes and stick him into the game for a half-dozen plays. Then, as he learns more of the offense, they can continue to give him more of a workload.”

Finally we come to “what” as in “what’s Crabtree going to contribute this year?”

Not a whole heck of a lot.

He comes from a spread offense at Texas Tech where the Red Raiders lined up four or five wideouts at once and threw the ball 40 to 50 times a game.

The 49ers have Hill attempt 25 or so passes per game, and for them using two wide receivers at a time stretches the boundaries of exotic. They like Josh Morgan as a starter because he’s big and can block.

Crabtree, who some suggested fell to the tenth pick because he came off as a diva in his pre-draft interview with the Cleveland Browns, will have a lot of work to do to win over a locker room that doesn’t have many prima donnas.

Sure, tight end Vernon Davis is narcissistic, but he’s earned that right by being the team’s unquestioned hardest worker in the weight room and on the practice field.

How Crabtree carries himself in his first few weeks with the team should be interesting as the locker room has grown very tight and there is real camaraderie in there. He didn’t exactly go out of his way to integrate himself into the mix during minicamp in June.

When asked what kind of report he established with the rookie back then, Hill coolly responded, “I’ve never thrown a pass to him in my life,” and his tone suggested that he wasn’t particularly looking forward to doing so, either.

Singletary recently referred to Crabtree as “a great kid” and said he got “a good feel for him” during that same minicamp, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be equally as warm and fuzzy once Crabtree is in the fold for real.

If all goes well Crabtree will work his way to being the team’s third receiver late in the season. Arnaz Battle, the man who currently has that job, has four catches for 31 yards on the season.

In other words, don’t sell the farm in your fantasy league for this guy just yet.

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