What can we expect from a “sorry receiver” like Michael Crabtree this coming season? Well, one thing’s for certain. If Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman plays fantasy football, he won’t be drafting Crabtree. But what about the rest of the fantasy football world? I’ll be targeting him for sure in the draft, and here are a few reasons why you should as well.
Last May, Crabtree underwent surgery on his right Achilles tendon, causing him to miss 11 games in 2013. But since joining the NFL, Crabtree has steadily increased his receptions every year in his first four seasons. In the San Francisco 49ers’ 2012 Super Bowl run, he broke out and grabbed 85 passes for 1,105 yards and nine TDs. It’s hard to say whether he would’ve topped those numbers in 2013 if it hadn’t been for the torn Achilles, but I think that he definitely would’ve come close.
Three factors have increased Crabtree’s value since 2012. The addition of WR Anquan Boldin only helps Crabtree get open for more receptions than he got with Mario Manningham opposite him in 2012. Boldin will help move the chains with underneath routes, and TE Vernon Davis is a big threat that can run up the seam and score at any time. The 49ers will be able to get downfield more often in 2014 now that they have three very capable receivers to complement the run game.
Another improvement is at the QB position. Colin Kaepernick is a much better QB for Crabtree’s fantasy value than Alex Smith. Kaepernick has a better arm and allows Crabtree to make the most out of each reception. After returning from his injury late last season, though admittedly we’re working off a small sample size of 19 receptions, Crabtree posted a career high 14.9 YPC. Crabtree already has great chemistry with Kaepernick after the 2012 postseason in which Crabtree snagged 20 receptions for 285 yards and three TDs.
Now for one of the most debated issues about Crabtree: the 49ers have a run-first offense. I’ve heard countless fantasy experts and others talk about why Crabtree and Kaepernick aren’t good players to own in fantasy because of that. Those who support that theory point to Kaepernick’s disappointing 2013 season, but he ended the season as the 14th-best fantasy QB. That’s not bad considering that he played without his No. 1 WR for most of the season. So what about Crabtree?
Crabtree’s breakout 2012 season happened despite that same run-first offense, so I respectfully disagree with the doubters. Moreover, the 49ers focus on the run in part due to their dominant defense, running down the clock while holding opponents to low scores. But the 49ers defense may not be the same without two of their most important players in 2014, as the team may not have star LBs Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman for much of the season.
Smith has been arrested four times, most recently for a false bomb threat at LAX, and he missed five games after checking into rehab in 2013. I’m not sure if he will play a full 16 games in 2014. As for Bowman, he tore his left ACL and MCL in the NFC championship game against the Seahawks, and he will likely begin the season on the PUP. Even when Bowman returns, he’ll need a few games to get back to game speed.
There is a good chance that the 49ers will be playing from behind in quite a few games in 2014. The weakened LB corps will be a big opening for opposing offenses, especially with matchups against the Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints this year among others. Head coach Jim Harbaugh may prefer to run, but he will have Kaepernick throw when he needs to in order to win games, and Kaepernick will throw to Crabtree.
This may be a bold prediction, but I think that Crabtree will have a career year in 2014, topping 1,300 yards and 10 TDs. At worst, he’ll pull in 900 yards and eight TDs. For a guy with WR1 upside, WR2 floor and a current ADP in the fifth round, I don’t see how you could possibly pass on him in August.