Michael Crabtree: Early predictions worth more than a grain of salt?

In the 2009 Football Almanac, Football Outsiders put together 2009 predictions of potential wins for each team.  On top of that, they put together predictions of 2009 individual statistics for players who played a significant role in 2008, or are expected to play a significant role in 2009.  They included an important caveat:

It is difficult to accurately project statistics for a 162-game baseball season, but it is exponentially more difficult to accurately project statistics for a 16-game football season.  Consider the listed projections not as a prediction of exact numbers, but as the mean of a range of performances.

The folks at Football Outsiders projected 70 receptions on 110 passes in his direction with 928 yards and 7 touchdowns.  Additionally, over at their Twitter page, they asked for predictions from fans.  The result: Avg: 52 rec/748 yards/5 TD; Max: 68/1328/10; Min: 35/400/2

Personally, I think a guy like Crabtree is even harder to predict given the fact that he has not been able to practice one bit given his pre-draft foot injury.  This puts him behind the curve compared to other rookies, meaning it's possible he could start especially slow.

One reason I bring this up now is because I received an interesting email a few days ago.  One of the newer members of our community, 49ers Rule, was kind enough to pass along a bit of analysis he did in regards to Michael Crabtree.  49ers Rule is interested in the stats/numbers side of things and was curious about what the past might tell us about the immediate future of young Mr. Crabtree.  Folks have actually made the argument that predictions based on the past are useless.  I agree that it takes more than just a look at the past, but when you've got nothing else to work with, it's as good a place to start as any.

49ers Rule decided to take a look at past Biletnikoff winners (award for best college receiver) and #2 overall drafted wide receivers, and then see how they performed in their first NFL season.  There is plenty to work with here, just as people can probably find critiques in it.  I look at more as an exercise to get folks thinking.  Here are some of the answers 49ers Rule came up with:

Since 1994, average stats for Biletnikoff winners who started at least one game: 9 starts, 729.9 yards, 6.5 TD

Since 1996, average stats for 2nd overall wide receiver in NFL draft who started at least one game: 8.2 starts, 592.4 yards, 3.9 TD

The only two players ever before Crabtree to receive the Biletnikoff award AND be the #2 WR taken in the NFL Draft are Terry Glenn in 1996 and Randy Moss in 1998 who averaged: 13 starts, 1222.5 yards, 11.5 TD

He looked at espn.com, yahoo.com, and rotoworld.com, and the average of their predictions for 2009 are: 759.7 yards, 4.9 TD

The raw data is after the jump, along with some of my own additional thoughts.

BIletnikoff Award Winners

Year Name Yards TDs G/S
2006 Calvin Johnson 756 4 10
2005 Mike Hass (a) 0 0 0
2004 Braylon Edwards 512 3 7
2003 Larry Fitzgerald 780 8 16
2002 Charles Rogers (b) 243 3 5
1999 Troy Walters (c) 0 0 0
2000 Troy Edwards 714 5 6
1998 Randy Moss 1313 17 11
1996 Marcus Harris (d) 0 0 0
1995 Terry Glenn 1132 6 15
1994 Bobby Engram 389 6 2
Average 729.9 6.5 9.0

Average excludes the 3 players that did not play their first year
a) Released before 2006 season
b) Broke collarbone after game 5
c) Did not play first season
d) Did not play in NFL - 7th round pick

2nd Wide Receiver Taken Overall in NFL Draft

Year Name Yards TDs G/S
2008 Devin Thomas 120 0 1
2007 Ted Ginn 420 2 9
2006 Chad Jackson 152 3 1
2005 Troy Williamson 372 2 3
2004 Roy Williams 817 8 11
2003 Andre Johnson 976 4 16
2002 Ashley Lelie 525 2 1
2001 Koren Robinson 536 1 13
2000 Plaxico Burress 273 0 9
1999 David Boston 473 2 8
1998 Randy Moss 1313 17 11
1997 Yatil Green 0 0 0
1996 Terry Glenn 1132 6 15
Average 592.4 3.9 8.2

 

While I see some reasons for his optimism, I would have to question things a little bit given the fact that Glenn and Moss and pretty sizable outliers.  Maybe Florida Danny can correct me on that.  Also, I question not including the 3 players who did not play their first year in the average for the Biletnikoff Award winners.

At the same time, I don't want to be excessively critical of information offered up free of charge!  For folks looking to get excited about 2009 Michael Crabtree, this could certainly intrigue folks.  As 49ers Rule said in the email to me:

I know statistics can be twisted any way you want, but considering he's not only a two-time winner of the award, and the numbers of the last two people in the same situation, I think predictions are on the low side. Just my opinion though. I would predict more like 900 yards for 8 TD. I think he can get in the endzone every other week. The only other thing that has the potential to derail his production would be a hold-out into training camp leading to injury.

Whether you agree with the analysis presented, it at least gets us thinking about all this.  Assuming it's reasonable to make predictions at this point in the offseason for ANY player (a leap of faith for some), I'd like to hear folks thoughts on an issue that has been brought up in part by 49ers writers.

If Michael Crabtree is ready on the first day of training camp (health/contract not issues), will his missed time in OTAs and minicamps cause a slow start?

Personally, I don't think so, or at least not all that much.  If Crabtree signs his contract and is in camp on time (which we'll find out soon enough), I think there's more than enough time to work on his routes and get things figured out.  Even though he's missed practice time, he's been learning the playbook.  Of course, learning the routes on the field is not as easy as in the playbook, so maybe I'm wrong.

Of course, does it even matter given what many 49ers fans think is very solid depth at receiver?

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