Last year, I saw Michael Crabtree make some of the most amazing catches in college football, and I was stoked to see that he was drafted by my Niners. However, this whole issue of getting paid like the upper echelon of the draft has put his value in perspective. It’s definitely made me go back and ask the question: Is Michael Crabtree who he claims to be? He had 134 receptions for 1932 yards and 22 TDs, but this was in a spread offense (3-4 wide) with Graham Harrell in shotgun formation for almost every snap. Contrast this with the West Coast-ish, run 1st type of offense of the Niners where route-running, timing and gap technique (during zones) are necessary.
Crabtree doesn’t have the speed that Randy Moss or Calvin Johnson has (4.5 vs 4.3 40-yd sprint) and he’s not the biggest target that you’ll find. Furthermore, his game against Oklahoma at the end of the season showed that he could be somewhat bullied by more physical teams and his route running ability (while very impressive) isn’t crisp.
But, enough with the skepticism…the bottomline is: how much impact will Crabtree have with the 49ers?
In one word: HUGE.
He is the best receiving package for the Niners since Terrell Owen and hopefully this little squibble about money doesn’t mean he’ll have the attitude of Owens. But Crabtree shows that he can run clean routes, has great size, knows how to use his body and has exceptional hands. The one thing I’m wondering about Crabtree is his ability to block. Gore doesn’t necessarily run too many sweeps or outside the tackle type runs and Coffee is a one-cut, between the blockers type of runner, but this league is going more and more to the receiver screens, and since QB Shaun Hill looks as if he could use a confident booster in first 3 quarters of every game, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Niners adopt this philosophy to some point. In fact, with Bruce, Morgan and Crabtree, I’d be surprised if by the end of the season we don’t see a lot more of this type of offense. Combined with the fact that we could create a tight end screen for “the freak” Vernon Davis and we got a ridiculous offensive set.
With Crabtree able to catch the quick outs as well as stretch the defenses (not so much with his speed as his route running, vertical ability and hands) with catches of 15 yd+, defenses will have to keep honest to the pass a little more. They can’t stack the box on Gore which should free him up for more creases in the line. Furthermore, the aged wonder, Isaac Bruce, is one of the best at the 5-yd out and 7-yd slant. We can also release Vernon Davis out wide or have him cut off the blocks for a curl right behind the front seven and because the free safety may have to cover over on Bruce or Crabtree, Davis would be open even more.
Anyway, I’m excited to see some great things out of him in the future…but because of his cry baby act, I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple strong safeties “clean his clock” to welcome him to the NFL…that’s for sure.