During his first three NFL seasons after being drafted 10th overall in 2009 following a stellar collegiate career at Texas Tech, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree earned an underachiever label as he failed to top 1,000 receiving yards in any of the three campaigns and only played all 16 games once. Certainly a fairly conservative 49ers’ offense played a role, as well as the ups and downs of quarterback Alex Smith, but it looked as though Crabtree was on his way to being a disappointment as a pro.
The start of the 2012 season did nothing to curb that lack of enthusiasm, as Crabtree had just one game with more than 80 receiving yards over the first nine games of the season with Smith at the helm. Smith was sidelined by a concussion in that ninth game against the St. Louis Rams, which opened the door for Colin Kaepernick to take over and eventually start the final seven regular season games.
Kaepernick performed well in his first start in Week 11 against the Chicago Bears, and Crabtree caught a touchdown from him despite catching just three passes for 31 yards in the game. The following game against the New Orleans Saints was also not great for Crabtree, with three catches once again for 26 yards, so fantasy football owners that had cautiously upped their expectations for the 49ers’ passing game had little to be excited about through Kaepernick’s first two career starts.
But a rematch with the Rams in Week 13 started a turnaround, as Crabtree had seven receptions (on 11 targets) for 101 yards in that game. He followed that up with 28 receptions over the final four games of the regular season, including two more 100-yard games and four touchdowns along with 45 targets in that span. He finished the regular season with career-highs in catches (85), yards (1,105) and touchdowns (nine), and became the first San Francisco receiver with 1,000 yards in a season since Terrell Owens in 2003.
Crabtree was targeted 66 times in Kaepernick’s seven starts, which was 40 more than any other 49ers’ pass catcher in that time frame. With Smith looking likely to be gone next season, Kaepernick is all but certain to be San Francisco’s starting quarterback in 2013 and if he makes further progress as a passer that is good news for Crabtree’s production level.
I think Crabtree has a chance to be a legit low-end WR1 or high-end WR2 for fantasy owners next season, with slightly greater value in PPR leagues since his red zone opportunities are likely to be fairly inconsistent. It’s fair to say a lot of fantasy owners will have some trepidation about drafting him, and he will certainly have to prove he has turned the corner in his career, but right now there is plenty of reason for optimism regarding Crabtree’s fantasy value for 2013.