It's been reported by more than a few sources today that Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles during OTA practice on Tuesday. Follow-up reports indicate he has already had surgery, and could be facing a six-month rehab process.
As most of us know, Crabtree was a huge part of the team's success, especially down the stretch and throughout the post-season. His loss will be felt for sure. I don't however think that it's time to pack it in for the season, or that the team will certainly suffer significantly in the win/loss column as a result of this.
The 49ers have been drafting and developing wide receivers for the last two years in addition to signing free agents like Mario Manningham. While the latter rehabs from a knee injury that may see him start the season on the PUP list, I think the team has viable options to consider.
The media and outsiders will often doubt the depth of a team simply because they haven't seen anything on the field, that guys are "unproven" or maybe even unknown. All this means is that those of us, fans included, outside of the organization don't know one way or another if the depth is ready to shine or not.
Remember the feeling about Kaepernick going into last season? He hadn't proven it to the public yet...but I think we all know the coaches had seen in practice what he was capable of. The same could be true for the current receivers on the squad.
Kyle Williams also suffered a knee injury last season, but his rehab has been ahead of schedule. Recently he posted what seemed like encouraging news via an instagram photo of himself next to a green light, adding that he received good news from the doctor. It would seem that he's poised to start training camp fully healthy. If that's the case, and he's back to prior form, he certainly was showing some of what he could do in 2012 and should be considered a candidate to receive significant playing time in Crabtree's absence.
Ricardo Lockette spent last season on the 49ers practice squad and chose to return to the team this season. He spent significant time with Colin Kaepernick in Atlanta training for the upcoming season. Jim Harbaugh dropped some flowery praise a few months ago regarding Lockette, so it would seem he will be in competition for playing time as well.
Lockette has a little bit of height on him at 6'2 and is known for his speed. If he knows the play-book and is in sync with Kaepernick, he has the potential to make some big plays in 2013 and beyond. The injury to Crabtree certainly helps elevate his position on the depth-chart some, too.
Let's also not forget about A.J. Jenkins (though admittedly I forgot to mention him here and had to come back and add it in later, doh!). If all is true about him working hard, bulking up, and studying his play-book, then perhaps he finally is ready to show why he was a first-round pick. Honestly I'd be happy with him as the third receiver, so long as he catches a pass now and then and doesn't otherwise screw-up.
Then there's the receiver the 49ers drafted in the fourth round, Quinton Patton. Many considered Patton to be first-round talent, though he played in a lesser-known conference, raising the "competition" question. His skills on tape are undeniable, and if he can pick up the NFL play-book and get on the same page as his QB, I feel like he has what it takes to make things happen.
There's a reason teams keep stocking the shelves, even at positions where they already have talent, and this is that reason. When a guy get's hurt do you want to just plug in "some guy", like the Brett Swain situation two years ago? Granted there were multiple injuries to deal with, much like last year with Williams and Manningham both going down in the season. But the point is you want the best players all the way through the depth chart. The 49ers very well may feel their backups are capable of starting and producing. I know I have faith in them, and so should you.
Let's also not forget about multiple tight end formations, the weapon that is LaMichael James moving around the formation (perhaps lining up in the slot?), Vernon Davis and the mismatches he creates, etc. Oh, and the 49ers have a top-flight run game with multiple backs and a stud offensive line. Plus I heard that their coaches were pretty adept at play-calling, too...