Sorry to burst Mel Kiper's bubble but Michael Crabtree is not a top NFL prospect. Top NFL WR prospects have tremendous size, speed and have demonstrated how to use those athletic attributes in college to make you believe they will dominate in the faster, bigger, tougher NFL.
Michael Crabtree in my estimation has demonstrated none of the above criteria to warrant such admiration and in my estimation is on route to becoming an infamous NFL bust.
I read a favorable comparison of Michael Crabtree to Calvin Johnson. Well to prove my point, let’s just compare Crabtree’s measurables to Calvin Johnson’s along with other recent highly touted NFL prospects:
Calvin Johnson - Height: 6-5, 4.35 sec 40 yard dash, 45" vertical jump
Braylon Edwards - Height 6-3, 4.40 sec 40 yard dash, 38" vertical jump
Larry Fitzgerald - Height 6-3, 4.48 sec 40 yard dash, 35" vertical jump
Michael Crabtree - Height 6-1 3/4, 4.54 sec 40 yard dash*, 34" vertical jump*
* College reported measurements
The first measurement (and only official measurement) to jump out about Crabtree is his height. He is not a tall receiver of the likes Johnson, Edwards or Fitzgerald. In fact, he's not tall at all for a receiver of NFL standards.
Judging by his lack of height you have to question whether Crabtree can win the vertical battle in the NFL. In fact, what often differentiates the top NFL receivers from the rest is the ability to win the jump ball from the defender. At 6-1 Crabtree is already at a disadvantage to the receivers mentioned.
We lack a vertical leap measurement on Crabtree because of his injury prior to the combine so we're just left checking the tape. I looked at the tape. Not only could I not find evidence of superior on field leaping ability but saw he often failed to attack the ball at the highest point. In traffic, he had a penchant for diving backwards for the ball to make the catch. It proved effective in college, but NFL defenders are not going to misjudge the flight of the ball giving him the chance to complete the catch behind them. Anyone expecting Larry Fitzgerald's high acrobatics or Megatron’s never ending reach isn’t going to see that play from Michael Crabtree.
No. 1 NFL receivers who lack height often make it up with superior speed. I think I've pretty well proven Crabtree won't be a Calvin Johnson or Braylon Edwards but maybe he's of the Santana Moss, Steve Smith mold of top receivers with blazing speed. Checking the combine numbers Santana Moss ran 4.35 40 yard dash and Steve Smith ran a 4.38. I haven't read anyone outside the Lubbock cheerleader squad who thinks Crabtree runs below 4.5 sec 40 yard dash. Again, you can refer to the tape but it's often pointed out Crabtree faced inferior talent provided by Texas Tech's schedule. Yes, he looks fast but he isn't out running anyone to make you believe he is 4.35 fast.
If he doesn't have superior size or superior speed than he really is a low-end NFL deep threat or even worse an NFL slot receiver. Neither comparison makes him a viable top 10 NFL prospect. Drafting him that high would put him in the reach category of a Peter Warrick, albeit Crabtree is taller. Than again, top slot receivers are precise route runners. Crabtree needs a lot work in that area.
Yes, but he's a football player and winner . . .
No denying Michael Crabtree was a great college football player and Texas Tech achieved a greater fame with him. However, if you go back to his most famous play, the game winner against Texas, the play was more of a mistake by the Texas safety than a great play by Crabtree. You can see the CB intentionally shadowing Crabtree to attack the ball underneath but it was safety that blew the coverage by also attacking the ball underneath instead of staying behind the play to make the safe tackle. Crabtree made the mistake of running the route 6 yards short of the end zone and the safety let him off the hook.
The abilities that do translate to the NFL are Crabtree’s great hands; ability to shake off arm tackles and good open field running, but that doesn't make him a special NFL prospect. As Reggie Bush found out, open field running in the NFL can be a rare commodity. Also to use those hands Crabtree will need to become a better, more deceptive route runner and display the ability to body the defender from the ball at the point of attack.
What about the immeasurables? No doubt Crabtree is a good kid who was a pleasure for the coaching staff, teammates and the campus. He is no knucklehead or malcontent but I question whether his college experience has prepared him for the culture shock of the NFL. I also question whether he is a workaholic, which is needed to survive in the NFL.
How many of you know that Mike Leach likes to keep the size of his play book exorbitantly low in order to give his kids more time for class? In 2 years at Texas Tech Crabtree had to learn a total of 35 plays. Let me repeat . . .35 PLAYS! Every high school football team in the country has a more elaborate play book. I have to believe such a minuscule playbook makes college life easy and the game more fun. Now project Crabtree's having to hunker down and memorize a 300 play NFL playbook with route trees based on secondary reads before he even enters training camp. He has the smarts but does he have the will or experience to break down and absorb that kind of playbook?
The NFL is a professional football league. The best players are known for their work ethic far above their athleticism . . . except you Randy Moss. Does Crabtree have the will to put in those extra, grueling hours to make him great? Minus exceptional height and speed, Crabtree is going to need to out work his counterparts to meet expectations.
More than likely, I expect to hear complaints that Crabtree doesn't find the NFL brand of football fun anymore. The extra hours of practice and study just to find mild success will probably wear on his expectations where he's always found that the game came easy. It cannot be emphasized enough; the greats are married to their job. Is Crabtree married to the grueling task of being an NFL football player or has the gotten by with athletic talent? Jeremy Maclin is told to be a great worker, is Crabtree of that mold?
Let it be declared now. If Michael Crabtree turns out to be NFL draft bust you heard it here first. Behind those rosy colored glasses painted on by the college football hype machine there are some serious questions to Crabtree's NFL prospects. Great college players don't always make great NFL players. 6-1 height, 4.5 sec 40 yard dash isn’t special in the NFL and his fundamentals and work ethic are not his strengths.
As for Mel Kiper, just know his list annually consists of the top college football players who might be big or fast enough for the NFL ranks, but its mere coincidence if they measure out to be top prospects by NFL standards. I wonder how many NFL scouts have secretly admitted to friends and family that they would punch Mel Kiper if given the opportunity? Lucky for Mel, if Crabtree busts the fan base stuck with the disaster would have already forgotten his prediction.