Moving on from Michael Crabtree

Al Sacco
May 22, 2013 at 6:14 PM13

Make no mistake about it, Michael Crabtree's Achilles injury is a gigantic blow to the San Francisco 49ers and their chances to get back to the Super Bowl. The time table for his return was set at about six months by doctors after his surgery. The 49ers hope that's the case but Achilles injuries can be tricky and he will need to run and cut with authority to be the impact player he was in 2012. Last season, Crabtree turned into the legitimate number one receiving option the team hoped he would when they drafted him out of Texas Tech. Losing him, and the production he brings, will be difficult replace.

The numbers themselves tell a story. Crabtree set career highs in receptions (85), yards (1105) and touchdowns (9) in 2012. In the playoffs, he was dominant catching another 20 passes for 285 yards and 3 scores. Even more telling was what Crabtree brought on third downs. He caught 32 passes and 24 of those receptions were converted into first downs. Overall, he was targeted 49 times on third and fourth down. Crabtree was also deadly after he caught the ball in 2012. His 543 yards after the catch were the fourth highest total in the league and accounted for 49.1 percent of his total receiving yards.

Crabtree had also established a fantastic chemistry with Colin Kaepernick. In the last five regular season games, he caught 35 of Kaepernick's passes for 538 yards and 4 touchdowns. According to ESPN's Matthew Berry, Kaepernick completed 68.5 percent of the passes thrown Crabtree's way with 8 touchdowns and no interceptions. Throwing to all other wide receivers, he had a 58.4 percent completion percentage with 1 touchdown and 4 picks.

So how will the 49ers go on with out their top pass catcher?

You have to remember that Jim Harbaugh and his staff are some of the top coaches in the league at game planning to their players strengths. The 49ers will continue to be a run first team, as well be creative in their schemes. But they still need someone split out wide who scares defenses.

Anquan Boldin will be thrust into top billing within the wide receiver group. He's big and strong but at this point in his career he's not much more a complimentary guy. Consider in his first seven years with the Cardinals, he averaged 83 receptions and eclipsed 100 twice. In his last three years in Baltimore. his average dipped to 62. He also did not record a 1,000 yard season during his span with the Ravens. Boldin will still make tough catches but he's not a player who will be able to break big plays or run after the catch like Crabtree can.

Mario Manningham is perfectly capable of starting opposite Boldin but will he be healthy enough to start the season? Will it take him time to get back to full speed and be the player he was prior to the injury? It could be likely the 49ers never get a Manningham at 100 percent this year. Kyle Williams is supposed to be ready for training camp but he falls into the same category as Manningham. Even though he's back, will he be anywhere near 100 percent?

The silver lining here is the ability for the younger guys to step up. The 49ers have to see what they have in A.J Jenkins and Quinton Patton. They may have no choice but to thrust them into the action early, especially Jenkins. It's hard to believe that Jenkins can go from not making a catch to playing a major role but it's not rare for wide receivers to start out slow and make a big jump from year to year. Jenkins will need to take that jump this year though, and won't have the luxury of being brought along slowly for another season.

The 49ers absolutely have to find out about Jenkins (and Patton to a lesser degree) sooner rather than later. Boldin, Manningham, and Williams may not be around in 2014. Crabtree will be in the last year of his deal at that time. It may be imperative to the future of the position for Jenkins and Patton to show they can be major parts of the offense going forward.

Ricardo Lockette is a player who has a lot of fans excited with his speed and big play ability. He spent a lot of time this off-season with Kaepernick and Jenkins which bodes well for his chances but remember, he was cut last year by Seattle and couldn't crack the lineup with the 49ers. Can he surprise? Absolutely. But speed and promise don't always translate. He didn't get off the practice squad last year and when the 49ers needed a player they went out and signed Chad Hall to play ahead of Lockette.

One would think, considering what's been mentioned above, that the 49ers will use their tight ends more in the passing game this year. Vernon Davis is an elite talent and a match-up nightmare. The 49ers went away from him in the passing game for long stretches in 2012. In the last six games of the season, Davis caught 6 passes for 61 yards and no scores. However, in three playoff games, he doubled that total with 12 catches for 254 yards and a touchdown. As long as the 49ers make an effort to get him involved, Davis will produce. They will need him more than ever in 2013.

Rookie tight end Vance McDonald will also be an intriguing option. He spent most of his time in the slot in college and the 49ers will feature him there as well. He could be called upon to make an impact early, especially if opposing defenses are keying in on Davis.

The 49ers have some further options as well with Marlon Moore, Joe Hastings and Hall but it's likely they bring in some other players to compete in camp. They have to weigh signing a vet like Randy Moss versus letting some of the younger guys develop. Moss (or another similar vet) may be able to contribute a bit but is that worth stunting the development of another player?

In the end, regardless of what paths they choose, the 49ers are a worse team that they were 48 hours ago. Anytime you remove a player like Crabtree from the equation it will hurt. It will be interesting to see how they approach the wide receiver situation moving forward. The front office has shown themselves to be on the ball and have an outstanding idea of who they are as a football team. They know, like we all do, injuries are part of the game.

So, again, make no mistake. This ship has hit some rough water...but it's far from sinking.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Marty Hill
    Not saying much about the players you are drafting. Look at the Ravens last year. How many def. players injured, yet they won the SB. All teams suffer injuries, its part of the game. Besides, other than the last ten games last year Crabtree really underperform. If you think about it, at the end of the year, only recs. were Crabtree, Moss & Jenkins. Major reason Crabtree finished so strong. If 49ers have one weakness, when they loose a starter, they have no backup. Wether its a rec or DL it really channges this team. Thats why they struggle in the playoffs & usunally ends the season with a lose.
    Jun 6, 2013 at 12:42 PM
  • Cooper
    Personally, I think this injury to Crabtree hurts. But it's my opinion that this could possibly make the offense even more dynamic than it was in the playoffs and late regular season last year. I think AJ will step up big time to show the world and us fans he was worth the first round pick we used to get him. Jenkins lining up opposite Boldin will be very effective in making the intermediate routes open up. Once he catches a few bombs from Kaep, the defenses will have to honor his tremendous speed, and they will play 10 yards off of him, bubble screens to him or LMJ and they could take one of those to pay dirt. That's my take on this.
    May 27, 2013 at 9:26 PM
  • Gib Robinson
    Your point about Harbaugh & his coaches is a good one. I expect Roman to play to the strengths of the receiving corps once he has been able to assess what he has during the preseason. It's likely to vary from game to game depending on the defenses they face and the personnel. I look forward to seeing McDonald on the field as well as Lockette & Jenkins.
    May 26, 2013 at 2:02 PM
  • 9ers in the Chi
    Question: Why do some people who have absolutely no relationship with Crabtree, have the audacity to question his work ethic? Although he has been injury prone, I don't think that his work ethic has ever been questioned by the coaches or his teammates. I do recall VD compelling him to be more serious at a practice, but never questioned his work ethic. IMO, that is disrespectful. As far as the team goes, I really don't see a major problem with this setback. What other team has four receivers/TE who provided Superbowl MVP types of performances over the past two years? Two of them will be down for a portion of the season, but are expected to return. However, the team has a 1st rd, two 2nd rd and a 4th rd player who had 2nd Rd talent, all preparing to impact this season. AJ, McDonald, LMJ and Patton offer a lot of play making ability and this alone should a reason to be excited about this team's potential passing game this season.
    May 25, 2013 at 4:33 PM
  • JR San Diego
    Frankly, I see a silver lining here. It is easy for a young QB to develop a dependence on one receiver - CK seemed to be heading that way with Crabs. When that happens, it makes it a lot easier for a defense to disrupt your success. This will force Ck to develop chemistry with a lot of his receivers - VD, McDonald, AJ, Patton, LMJ, during the offseason and training camp, which will make them better with a diversified attack that is hard to stop when the season arrives. When Crabs comes back (this year or next) the 49ers will be more balanced for it. And if Crabs gets crazy in contract negotiations, they'll be ready to survive without him. SILVER LINING MAN - I'm sticking to it. :)
    May 24, 2013 at 7:08 PM
  • ladale
    Michael Crabtree did flourish in his chemistry with the dynamic and strong arm Kaepernick, but I think we forget that this same 9ers team went 13-3 the previous season with the most under utilized receiving core in the league. It was that chemistry between Kaep and Crabtree that forced the 9ers to continue to go that connection but they definitely have more established options in Frank Gore and that entire running back committee, Vernon Davis along with Vance McDonald (who will be productive as soon as he hits the field - and a better receiving option than was Delanie Walker), along with receiving options in Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham ( both guys who have experienced more success in the league than any 9er receiving option). But this is more so a blessing in disguise. The 9ers have to get more receiving options and playmakers involved in their passing attack. So now we get to see early the maturation of A.J. Jenkins, the potential of the speedy and physical Ricardo Lockette, and the unique skills of Quinton Patton. You may very well find out that early in the season its more productive to have a receiving committee more so than just one go to target.
    May 23, 2013 at 9:12 PM
    Response: Good points here. Might hurt the team initially but help in the long run
  • Lucky Phil
    Everything Is Going To S#!T!
    May 23, 2013 at 4:30 PM
  • mbniner
    I think that Lockette is the key. He is the only big, FAST, WR on the roster. If he can live up to his promise, we will have two guys to stretch the field (V. Davis the other). If he flops we are going to have to limit our passing attack which was starting to become so explosive last season. Of the others, Patton and Williams may be our best hopes. Manningham will probably miss part of the season.
    May 23, 2013 at 8:51 AM
  • moose
    Problem is that we will have four players(incl hunter) that wont be 100% during the season.This hurts quite a bit.We need a vet.Moss makes sense.It just takes time to develop receivers.The boldin signing is now huge......
    May 23, 2013 at 7:09 AM
  • Mags
    Crazy for me to think this but as a huge fan obv I try to look at things in a different light. We have some super talented young WRs that have been looking for a chance to step up. It's huge to ask but Crabs is in a contract year so I like Kaepernick being forced to gel with these younger guys.
    May 23, 2013 at 5:13 AM
  • mrpelon14
    reading this post was like a bouncing ball you had promise then depleted promise then depleted in the end....blah we suck.
    May 22, 2013 at 9:45 PM
    Response: Hey, its not all sunshine and rainbows. The 49ers are a great organization and will handle this as well as anyone in the league can. But, realistically, there not as good without him
  • Doctor Jones
    I just wanted to make a comment regarding Crabs. I ruptured my Achilles tendon 6 yrs. ago. Which is a complete tear compared to the partial tear that Crabs has suffered. For me took a full six months to get back to normal. Not full strength since I never recovered 100% strength in my calf muscle not even after years of working out. My rupture I believe is connected to using the drug Levaquin. Crabs is most likely connected to slacking off this off season. Most athletes never suffer an Achilles tendon injury because they are continually working out. Its not surprising Crabs is the one to get injured in his first OTA this season. We have seen over and over again this guy is always getting injured in the off season. When will people see this guy for who he is. He is not a #1 receiver never has been. I'm looking forward to see which one these young WR's Lock, Jenks or Patton wants the starting job. Because when and if Manningham comes back 100%, the dress rehearsal is over.
    May 22, 2013 at 9:38 PM
    Response: He was terrific this past year but, yes, prior he had always had injuries. His feet have always been a problem for him.
  • reb49
    Only one positive on the day ... at least he injured himself before training camp. Unfortunately, Crab has been compromised by injuries in 4 out of his 5 years now. As good as he is I think his reliability questions his contract $. He has always had a more valuable image of himself than his combined annual averages can match.
    May 22, 2013 at 8:01 PM
    Response: Good point on his contract. I think it will be an issue as well. That's why other guys developing wil be so important

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