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Crabtree Is Symbol of This Year's Struggling Class of Wide Receivers

Liam BlackburnContributor IOctober 8, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 25:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell poses with with San Francisco 49ers #10 draft pick Michael Crabtree at Radio City Music Hall for the 2009 NFL Draft on April 25, 2009 in New York City  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

The 2008 NFL Draft made history by becoming the only draft not to have a wide receiver selected in the first round. In this year’s draft, six were taken in the first 32 picks but so far this year’s group have not set the world alight.

The standout star of this group of receivers was supposed to be Michael Crabtree. A star at Texas Tech, big things were expected of Crabtree when the 49ers took him with the 10th overall pick.

Crabtree has since hogged the headlines without even setting foot on the field. After only recently signing a contract with the team, Crabtree has yet to put on a gold helmet and play a single down in the NFL.  It is laughable that he still hasn’t taken to the field, but in truth, he won’t have much to do to catch up with some of his fellow rookie receivers.

Last year’s group performed admirably, even with no receiver being taken in the first round. DeSean Jackson and Eddie Royal both had over 900 receiving yards in their rookie seasons. The year before, Dwayne Bowe was five yards short of 1,000 and in 2006, Marques Colston did surpass the magical 1,000. So why has this group not really started up yet?

Well, there are a multitude of reasons. In the case of Hakeem Nicks it has been other players stepping up. Without Plaxico Burress, Nicks was suppose to be Eli Manning’s go-to-guy, but it looks as though the former Super Bowl MVP has found other avenues more appealing.

Steve Smith leads the NFL in receiving yards and Mario Manningham exploded onto the scene in the first few weeks. The Giants are a rush first offense but have found the aerial route just as devastating.

Daririus Heyward-Bey has had the dire JaMarcus Russell at quarterback and has been the most disappointing of the entire group.

As the first wide receiver taken off the board, Heyward-Bey is earning the most but producing the least. The Raiders were roundly mocked for selecting him with the seventh overall pick, and so far, the critics have been proven right.

Heyward-Bey has said that he is doing his job by distracting defenders and allowing others to get open. Oakland spent far too much on him to just pose as a distraction.

The Philadelphia Eagles’ Jeremy Maclin is perhaps the most unfortunate of the three as he has seen the least playing time. Couple this with the injury to quarterback Donovan McNabb, and at least Maclin’s statistics are understandable.

Going into week five, Nicks, Heyward-Bey, and Maclin have a combined total of 11 receptions and 153 yards with one touchdown. A poor return for players with the potential to be among the game's elite.

Fortunately, there have been a few encouraging performances. Percy Harvin at Minnesota and Kenny Britt at Tennessee are also first round draftees, and they have been performing like it.

The reason?

Experienced quarterbacks.

Harvin has flourished under the 39-year-old Brett Favre and Kerry Collins, four years Favre’s junior, has a brilliant weapon in Britt.

As for the surprise package, well that has to be fifth round pick Johnny Knox. Knox has been the diamond in the rough and has racked up more receptions and yards than Nicks, Heyward-Bey, Maclin, and Crabtree combined, proving that sometimes the best players don’t always get picked first.

As for Crabtree, the waiting is finally over and he is an official 49er, but it will take time for him to learn the playbook. And it will take something seriously special if any of Nicks, Heyward-Bey, Maclin, or Crabtree reaches the numbers posted by some of the previous rookie wide-outs.

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