Young_To_Rice posted a FanShot yesterday that linked a solid article from Scouts Inc. The article looked at WR Michael Crabtree, what he's done to date, and what he needs to do to progress in his third year with the San Francisco 49ers. Crabtree has quickly developed into a divisive player among the fans. Some folks are intent on trading him as soon as possible, others think he's overrated but aren't ready to unload him yet, and others are still holding out hope he can turn into the receiver we thought he could be when he surprisingly fell to the 49ers at the No. 10 spot of the 2009 NFL Draft.
The article does a good job of pointing out Crabtree's strengths and also assessing his weaknesses at this point in his career. One of his primary strengths has been his ability to reach out and attack the ball with his hands. He had an alligator arms issue against the Seahawks (I believe that was the game), but when he catches a ball he seems to really reach out and snatch it out of the air.
The author of the article (Matt Williamson) pointed to his strength after the catch and his general physical nature. The ability after the catch is not surprising given his work in the Texas Tech spread offense and particularly the use of the bubble screens. The idea is that if you can get Crabtree the ball he can make big things happen from there. His speed is not spectacular so he may not be your big deep threat on the bomb. Rather, if you get him the ball in a quicker route he can turn that upfield and into a big play.
Williamson described some of Crabtree's weaknesses as follows:
He had too many drops and must concentrate more on the finer points of playing the position -- including the sharpness and consistency of his route running. Crabtree is also an awful blocker, which was certainly a problem on a run-first offense. His effort in this department has to improve, because he certainly has the physical traits to excel at blocking. Crabtree caught four or fewer passes in 13 of the 16 games he played in last season. In 11 games as a rookie, Crabtree caught seven fewer passes than he did a year ago. That is not progress.
There was definitely some inconsistency in Crabtree's second season with the 49ers. The quarterback situation certainly didn't help matters. The new offense and whomever is at quarterback under Coach Harbaugh will make this all the more interesting in Crabtree's third season. A lot of people write about the third year being the year wide receivers make the leap to the next level. A new offensive system could put Crabtree in a position to make that happen.
If he matures as a wideout, he could develop into the type of receiver who can mask suspect accuracy from his quarterback with his ability to go up and fight for the ball in the air. But to get the most out of Crabtree, the Niners need to have someone behind center who can consistently hit him in stride so he can become a running back with the ball in his hands after the catch.
This year could be very telling for the future of Michael Crabtree. I'm in the camp that thinks he could be a beast of a receiver in the NFL. He's not a freakish receiver like a Randy Moss or Terrell Owens. However, he could become accomplished enough in many of the nuances of the position to be a constant threat. If he wants it enough he could become that go-to guy for the 49ers. And if the 49ers can consistently rely on Crabtree and Vernon Davis in the passing game, that could turn into a fairly filthy offense.