Not only did it take some time for the 10th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Michael Crabtree, to break through with the San Francisco 49ers, but it also seems to have taken the infusion of a young quarterback in Colin Kaepernick.
Crabtree will be just 26 years of age at the start of the 2014 NFL season and although he tore his Achilles tendon prior to the 2013 NFL season, he managed to return to play by Week 13 and should be “all-systems-go” for the upcoming year and on your fantasy football radar.
Since Kaepernick grabbed the reins of the 49ers offense midway through 2012, Crabtree has played 18 games with him, including the playoffs. For a better understanding on the uplifting relationship, here’s a look at Crabtree’s game log for those contests:
It did not take long before Kaepernick grew comfortable with Crabtree; by their third start together, Crabtree eclipsed 100 receiving yards for the first time and then did the same in four of the next seven games, which included the 2012 Super Bowl versus the Baltimore Ravens.
After returning from the aforementioned Achilles tendon injury in Week 13 of 2013, Crabtree did not exactly hit the ground running, averaging just 3.7 catches and 51 yards per game in his first three games. He did begin to hit stride during the Week 16 matchup versus the Atlanta Falcons porous defense and although he was a bit inconsistent, he averaged 4.6 catches and 67 yards per game, which would translate to 74 catches and 1069 yards over a 16-game span.
The per-game averages provide a much better glimpse into the realm of possibilities for Crabtree’s future. As you’ll notice above, his 2012 splits with Kaepernick were quite remarkable. In fact, the 217.6 standard scoring fantasy football points would have placed him only second to Calvin Johnson in 2012 and as the fourth best wide receiver in 2013. With Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson now in the fold, those heights are much less unlikely, but the talent to reach them still remains.
While 2013 was not as fruitful for fantasy owners, not much should have been expected from a player who tore his Achilles tendon in May. In fact, Crabtree’s work ethic and dedication should be applauded for returning to the field of play so soon. Irregardless, 68 catches and 974 yards would not be damning. With touchdown regression accounted for, those numbers would still place him as a WR3 and that can be viewed as his floor for 2014.
Although there may be more company in the wide receiver corps, Kaepernick has displayed a tendency to lock on his #1 receivers as we have seen with Crabtree, and with Boldin during Crabtree’s absence. Vernon Davis’ targets know this story all too well as he finds himself disappearing from the stat sheet quite often.
Resulting, the 2012-2013 averages from above are more on par with what can be expected from Crabtree in 2014 – those numbers would have placed him as the 13th wide receiver in total standard scoring fantasy football points in both, 2012 and 2013. I currently have him cautiously projected for 79 receptions, 1,101 receiving yards, and 7.1 receiving touchdowns.
There are some concerns about his contract situation as he is only signed through the 2014 season, but Johnson and the newly drafted Bruce Ellington would both be downgrades. With Boldin nearing retirement, San Francisco should be expected to seriously pursue an extension.
However, if the organization does refuse to meet Crabtree’s demands, there is a strong possibility that he ends up in a more prolific passing offense anyway – only the Seattle Seahawks have attempted less passes than the 49ers in the past two seasons.
Additionally, while much of this article was about Crabtree’s relationship with Kaepernick, his talents should translate well if he were forced to play with another quarterback. The following tidbits regarding his 2012 season, including the playoffs, are from ProFootballFocus:
Those above facts are an accurate representation of Crabtree’s strong pass-catching ability and also his run-after-the-catch prowess.
All in all, Michael Crabtree can be viewed as a solid WR2 with the potential to encroach on WR1 production heading into the 2014 NFL season. If the contract situation has dampened his dynasty owner’s perception or last season’s production causes him to slide in your redraft league, don’t be afraid to pounce at the opportunity to roster him.