Today is a great day: not only are the 49ers playing a game today, but Michael Crabtree is also going to play for the first time this season. While it is impossible to determine what sort of impact he will have on the game due to a multiplicity of factors (on the one hand, for example, he has sustained a major injury that can affect his game in both the short- and long-term, but on the other hand, in his rookie season he joined the team midseason and had a good deal of success), this serves as a good excuse to examine Mario Manningham's return to the team.
The situations are obviously not comparable, but such a review not only makes sense in and of itself, but it also might serve as a way for us to temper expectations. Of course, Manningham has only been back for three days, so small sample size problems abound. We don't have enough of a statistical pool with which we can make predictive claims from the following stats. But, they do gives us an idea of how Manningham has played in the last three games.
Base Line Stats: 8 Receptions, 83 Yards, 10.4 Yards per Reception, 0 TDs, 2.7 Receptions per Game, 27.7 Yards per Game
At the most basic level, Manningham has been decent. The numbers aren't flashy by any means - the 2.7 receptions per game is pretty low, especially considering the fact that he has been targeted 15 times for a 53.3% completion rate. I think we would also like to see his 10.4 yards per reception rise too. Of course, we must keep in mind the fact that he is returning from an injury and that he has never been the type of receiver who can blow the top off a defense. That said, his career average is 13.6 yards per reception (to be fair, he has seen that number decrease to 10.6 in San Francisco, so this might also be indicative of the ways in which this offense utilizes his skill set). With all this in mind, from this set of stats, I think it is safe to say that Manningham has performed at an average level for a possession / slot receiver. Let's see if Football Outsiders can add anything to this conversation.
Football Outsiders: -5 DYAR, -16.6% DVOA
Football Outsiders confirms the above assessment, even if it is a bit more pessimistic. DYAR attempts to asses total value. The higher the number, the better. Because it is a counting stat, and Manningham has only been back for three games, we cannot expect his DYAR to be that high. But, the -5 is bit upsetting because it says that Manningham has played slightly below replacement level, with replacement level being defined as the expected output of an average player in the same situation.
Football Outsider is less kind in respect to their DVOA stat. His -16.6% is quite bad. FO defines DVOA thusly: "This number represents value, per play, over an average WR in the same game situations. The more positive the DVOA rating, the better the player's performance." Basically, depending upon how effective a player is on each play toward achieving a first down, the higher the rating. Manningham has not succeeded in most of his plays in helping the team achieve a first down according to his -16.6 rating.
Pro Football Focus
PFF, however, is where we can draw our optimism. According to PFF's receiving grades (which evaluates a players contributions in the receiving game, with a positive score being better than a negative score), Manningham has improved with each game. In his first game back, he scored a pretty bad -1.5 receiving score. In the next game, even though he only had 8 yards on 1 catch, he still graded out at a much better -0.2 (even though he underperformed in respect to his number of receptions and yards, he may still have been drawing double coverage and getting other receivers open, etc. to earn a higher grade). The most recent game, however, was also his best: PFF graded his day receiving at 0.8. So, he has been improving with each game. As he gets used to being back on the field, he is able to contribute more and more. Hopefully, we can expect something similar with Crabtree. If both of these men are peaking come December (through February?) then we will be set at the receiver level.