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Article Title: Sizing up Michael Crabtree.
Article Date: May 31st, 2009
By Sydney


Astonishment permeated the war room in Santa Clara as the San Francisco 49ers observed the Oakland Raiders select Maryland wide receiver Darius Heyward-Bay with the seventh selection in the 2009 NFL Draft. Speed was the definite factor for his selection according to known experts.

Jacksonville and Green Bay followed with interesting choices in coveted offensive tackle Eugene Monroe and defensive tackle B.J. Raji, in that order. Both of these tackles would’ve been immediate upstarts to lines that are in immediate dire need of improvement, yet as the first round progressed the 49ers suddenly realized that Texas Tech stud wide receiver Michael Crabtree remained on the board.

Pessimism turned optimism the San Francisco 49er brass had the draft’s most coveted wide receiver in their gun sights and took aim and pulled the trigger on the 10th selection of the first round in the 2009 NFL Draft. General Manager Scot McCloughan proclaimed it to be the most opportunistic moment in being able to draft the best wide receiver available and challenged the media and experts to think otherwise. Scot went on to say that many clubs turned their heads on Crabtree simply because he was unable to run at the NFL Scouting Combine or during a pro workout leading up and until the draft. There were lingering questions regarding his overall speed.

To be frank and honest I was stunned to think that we would’ve selected a wide receiver with our very first pick in this year’s draft, based on the facts that we were in dire need of both an offensive tackle and a defensive one as well. Needless to say a pure certified pass rusher would’ve been rather intriguing as well?

However there is no doubt that Texas Tech Michael Crabtree commands respect for his collegiate accomplishments that are literally off the charts in his brief two-year career as the schools most prolific receiver. He has caught 231 passes for 3,127 yards and 41 touchdowns in the Texas Tech’s Red Raider’s notorious spread offense. As the 2008 collegiate season started to fade away he was considered the top receiver inside the nation.

Crabtree, 21, was snubbed as some NFL analysts agree because he didn’t perform for NFL scouts because of a stress fracture in his foot that was surgically repaired back in early March. Therefore scouts had no 40-yard dash time, no short shuttle and no vertical leap to attest to. Concerns over the fracture made some clubs a rather bit uneasy.

On top of his statistics as the best collegiate wide receiver in the draft he was the winner of the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best collegiate wide receiver after each of his two seasons. The stress fracture in his left foot sent red flags waving with some of the clubs thinking beyond him to other key positions of interest.

In reality despite the stress fracture someone of this caliber just doesn’t come around that often as General Manager Scot McCloughan will attest in that he definitely didn’t believe that Crabtree would be sitting there at Number 10. In fact Scot compared Crabtree as the closest thing to Arizona Cardinal wide receiver Anquan Boldin he’s ever seen in college football. The competitiveness and cockiness he carries signal complete self-confidence in his abilities as a player. Crabtree is enthusiastic about being a 49er as being someone who grew up idolizing the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers. He also went on to admit that the shoes left behind in San Francisco by some of the greatest to ever play the game would be very hard to fill.

For six consecutive losing seasons the San Francisco 49ers have been tormented by the lack of offensive ingenuity and the ability to find a competent pass rusher to boot. Certainly there was a choice when they went on the clock for the tenth overall pick in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft. But like a kid at an ice cream parlor the yearning for something exciting in ways of explosive offense appealed to the 49er front office.

The Oakland Raiders are notoriously known to pick relatively what we refer to as “the twilight zone,” chose Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey based upon his pure speed but relatively substandard production statistics. Mike Singletary was blessed with some sought after advice involving legendary defensive back Deion Sanders.

Sanders found that Michael Crabtree is a focused and self-confident player that has a set of goals he would like to accomplish. Further Singletary and others on his coaching staff watched endless game film on Crabtree as Texas Tech’s most explosive offensive weapon with 231 catches, 41 touchdowns and averaged 13.5 yards per catch.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. weighed in on the Oakland Raiders decision to pass up Michael Crabtree as utterly “ludicrous,” in that Darrius Heyward-Bey had not even caught a pass in a few games as he played for Maryland and considers the pick an “F,” grade. One thing we can definitely take away from this is that Michael Crabtree will be very eager to prove his worth following training camp and beyond.

What is even more of a beneficiary is the fact that veteran wide receiver Isaac Bruce will be the mentor for this young athlete with enormous aspirations to be someone special like Bruce or even the greatest wide receiver of all in Jerry Rice. Still even more important other wide receivers currently on the 49er roster will be in place to take some of the immediate pressure off from Crabtree as the depth deepens with young athletes like Jason Hill and Josh Morgan.

There is no question that the front office and the coaching staff of the San Francisco 49ers look to Michael Crabtree as becoming a legitimate offensive weapon in tune to the likenesses of a Terrell Owens and or Jerry Rice, in that the first pick of the draft comes with that type of expectation. He will wear the number “15,” as his jersey number and will continue practicing with his hands to improve his grasp of the ball.

As a child growing up in Dallas, Michael always took time to practice catching balls from his older brother Keiron Stevenson. The balls were thrown so hard with Keion being six-years older than Michael that his chest bothered him from soreness because of the velocity on the balls thrown. This made Michael more inclined to catch the ball with hands rather than with his chest and today he practices catching tennis balls sometimes one or two-handed to try and see the ball the entire way it is in the air. It is because of Michael’s hands the 49ers are excited to see him perform out on the field.

Here are some statistics courtesy of Sporting News Draft 2009 on Michael Crabtree that I find most interesting in that it confirms that he is an exceptional athlete that provides the organization with much sought after offensive explosiveness to the tune of being a calculated weapon.

Hands: He caught more than 94% of all balls thrown his way. Can pluck passes that are off target and shows concentration and toughness heading into heavy traffic on quick-hitting slant routes which is an amazing attribute, he is also able to catch high passes along the sideline and then tap his feet down in bounds.

Patterns: Hr has the agility to make sharp cuts and good burst to get separation. Does well with getting body position on the defender to cut off and shed him from the ball. He does however need to make all his routes look the same until he cuts.

Run after the catch: Doesn’t have top-end speed to run away from the defense and take plays to the distance. He is big and strong receiver who can run through arm tackles and gains yards after contact. Michael has some experience returning kickoffs as well.

Release: Displays solid footwork and snap anticipation. Lacks a bit of explosiveness off the ball into his route, he does use his hands, size, and strength well to fight through and release quickly while in a jam situation. Does a solid job of defending the jam overall.

Blocking: He possesses the size and strength to be a dominant blocker. He needs need to give better overall effort and become more consistent. Bottom line: Crabtree is a tall, strong receiver with deceptive athleticism who knows how to get himself open. He catches passes in traffic without hesitation, not flinching at the defenses and holding on to the ball after he takes a hard shot. He has everything desirable of a promising collegiate wide receiver that a team needs.

I say a big thank-you to Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis for not taking Michael Crabtree and I am anxious as all of you are to see him perform inside training camp. One does not have to look back far to see when the last time the 49ers picked a wide receiver at No. 10 in the first round of the draft. Back in 1995 it was J.J. Stokes.

The former UCLA wide receiver turned out to be a bust despite the research that said otherwise from that time and head coach George Seifert saying he was comparable to Dallas wide receiver Michael Irving. Little do we remember who his collegiate coach was in former 49er general manager the notorious Terry Donahue.

Again every draft comes with an inexact science attached to it. But like others I am betting Michael Crabtree proves our skeptics wrong and makes Al Davis a bit older and less wise by selecting someone else and leaving us with what I think will be the pot of gold at the end of the draft rainbow.

Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.