Heading into his first full season as the San Francisco 49ers’ starting quarterback, Colin Kaepernick already has a heaping pile of pressure strapped to his shoulders. The load got heavier on Wednesday when it was announced that his top target, Michael Crabtree, could miss the entire 2013 season with a torn Achilles tendon.
While many have already speculated on which wide receiver must step up to replace the lost production, no player has more to prove following the loss of Crabtree than Kaepernick.
This is the NFL, and every young, inexperienced player is just waiting for his opportunity to hit the field and prove his worth. Especially with the depth that the 49ers have at wide receiver, there’s going to be a plethora of talented pass-catchers ready to fill the void. Whether it’s from 2012 first-rounder A.J. Jenkins, rookie Quinton Patton or No. 2 running back LaMichael James, the production will show up somewhere. But whose job is it to get the ball to them?
The only difference now is that Kaepernick must work that much harder to make the same plays with different receivers. As the 49ers’ No. 1 passer, he must make the most with the weapons he has available, even if Crabtree is never a part of his arsenal in 2013.
Take future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning for example. During his stay with the Indianapolis Colts, Manning never had an elite set of wide receivers to throw to. After Marvin Harrison retired, he was left with Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and a hoard of inexperienced, injury-prone pass-catchers. Still, that never stopped him from being productive. A top-tier quarterback makes his receivers better and puts them in position to be successful, and that’s exactly what the 49ers need from Kaepernick this upcoming season.
The loss of Crabtree is nothing more than a test for Kaepernick. The exciting young quarterback enjoyed the reliability that his top receiver provided last season, but must now face the reality that life in the NFL doesn’t always include a player of Crabtree’s caliber. The talent is there, though, for Kaepernick to pick up where he left off in 2012.
Can Kaepernick step up and allow his other receivers to thrive? Only time will tell.