Offseason Extra: The Crabtree effect
Michael Crabtree's unfortunate injury changes things in San Francisco and on Draft Day. Our Jamey Eisenberg re-examines the 49ers offense heading into 2013.
Michael Crabtree suffered a torn Achilles on Tuesday during an offseason workout, and he already underwent surgery Wednesday. He's expected to be out a minimum of six months, and that's a terrible loss for the 49ers and Fantasy owners.
In the four drafts I've done following the NFL Draft at the end of April, Crabtree was being selected on average at the end of Round 3. He finished 2012 on a tear thanks to the addition of quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the starting lineup, and he was looking like a No. 1 Fantasy receiver coming into this season.
In the seven starts Kaepernick made in 2012 in the regular season, Crabtree had 41 catches for 595 yards and five touchdowns. If you project that over 16 games, Crabtree would have finished with 94 catches for 1,360 yards and 11 touchdowns. That equates to 202 Fantasy points, which would have made Crabtree the No. 3 Fantasy receiver last year in standard leagues behind Calvin Johnson (214) and Brandon Marshall (210).
Now, all that potential is gone. Crabtree could still return this season, with the timetable getting him back on the field sometime in November. And keep in mind Baltimore's Terrell Suggs and Tampa Bay's Da'Quan Bowers came back last year from Achilles injuries suffered around the same time.
But they play defensive line, which isn't comparable to the starting and stopping a receiver has to do while running routes. This is basically a lost season for Crabtree, who is only worth drafting in deep Fantasy leagues with a late-round pick.
His absence will have a huge impact on the rest of the 49ers, especially Kaepernick. We had Kaepernick as a Top 7 quarterback prior to Crabtree's injury, but now he's barely a Top 10 option. He should still be considered a No. 1 Fantasy quarterback, but he will miss his No. 1 receiver.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that in the 10 starts Kaepernick made last season, including the playoffs, he targeted Crabtree 94 times. The next most-targeted option was a tie for Vernon Davis and Randy Moss with 39.
The 49ers could look at a free agent to replace Crabtree, with Brandon Lloyd the most attractive option based on experience. Moss could also be brought back, or the 49ers could explore a trade. Otherwise they will just bump everyone up on the depth chart.
Anquan Boldin, who was acquired in a trade from Baltimore, is the likely No. 1 option, although you should use that term loosely. He's 32 now and is not the dynamic playmaker he once was in Arizona, despite his big playoff performance with the Ravens last year (he had 22 catches for 380 yards and four touchdowns).
Boldin clearly gets a boost in Fantasy value if he is the top receiver, but he's just a No. 3 option at best worth a mid-round pick. He told me in April at his charity event that he was looking forward to playing with Kaepernick, but he obviously was expecting Crabtree on the field with him.
"I embrace change," Boldin said. "For me, I think it's a great opportunity. I feel like the job that I was brought to Baltimore to do, I accomplished that. I feel good in that aspect. It's on to another challenge in life."
Davis might benefit the most with Crabtree out. When Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith, Davis struggled. He had one game with double digits in Fantasy points with Kaepernick under center in the regular season, but they looked great together in the playoffs. In his final two postseason games Davis had 11 catches for 210 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons and Ravens.
Davis was always a No. 1 Fantasy tight end, but he's now at the top of Tier 2 behind Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez. Plan on drafting Davis as early as Round 6 or 7 in the majority of leagues.
As for the other San Francisco receivers, there are question marks. Mario Manningham is coming back from a torn ACL and PCL in his left knee from Week 16. He might not be ready for training camp. Second-year receiver A.J. Jenkins went his entire rookie season without a catch. And fourth-round rookie Quinton Patton is considered a raw talent. Maybe even Ricardo Lockette gets a look following this injury.
Jenkins has the best chance to improve of this group, and he should be considered a late-round flier in all formats. If the 49ers don't add another receiver, Jenkins could start opposite Boldin and make some plays.
Also, we know the 49ers are a run-heavy offense to begin with, and this should only increase the workload for Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James. Gore remains a solid No. 2 Fantasy running back, and he might also see a few more receptions this season to help replace Crabtree in the passing game.
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