SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Coverage of the San Francisco 49ers

Niners' Crabtree Now Established Among NFL's Elite Receivers

San Francisco will be looking for help at wide receiver this offseason, but the core of its wideout corps is much stronger now after Crabtree's breakout 2012 season

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Getty Images
    The 49ers' Michael Crabtree snags a pass during Super Bowl XLVII against the Ravens. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

    Would Percy Harvin look good in a 49ers uniform? Would he be the perfect pairing with Michael Crabtree to give San Francisco a dynamic duo of wideouts for quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2013?

    Well, of course. The speculation has begun this week, with news that the Vikings and Harvin may part ways.

    Harvin is a fast, deep-threat receiver who just finished his fourth season in the NFL and has 149 catches over the past two seasons – with a below-par quarterback -- and the Niners could use another playmaker at the position.

    But whether Harvin can fit into the Niners’ salary cap situation and mesh with the Team Harbaugh culture – he has a history of blowups in Minnesota – is another story.

    What isn’t speculation anymore is the fact the 49ers actually picked up an elite wide receiver last season – and it isn’t Randy Moss or Mario Manningham.

    It’s Crabtree.

    Until 2012, Crabtree had shown himself to be a good wideout and an ever-improving one. In his first three seasons, Crabtree’s numbers steadily improved, from 48 catches and 625 yards in 2009 to 55 and 741 in 2010 and 72 and 874 in 2011.

    Then, last season, Crabtree turned into the receiver the 49ers hoped he would be when he was taken high in the 2009 draft out of Texas Tech, with career highs in catches, yards and touchdowns.

    Crabtree caught 85 passes for 1,105 yards and nine TDs in the regular season. He ranked 14th in the NFL in receiving yards and 13th in catches. Then in two playoff games and the Super Bowl he added 20 catches for 285 yards and three scores.

    Once Kaepernick became the QB in November and he and Crabtree developed a rapport, Crabtree became the young quarterback’s go-to guy. Over the final five games of the regular season, he had 35 catches and four TDs.

    So, as the 49ers look toward 2013, getting another wide receiver is certainly on the team’s shopping list, with Moss’s return questionable, Manningham and Kyle Williams coming back after injuries and 2012 No. 1 pick A.J. Jenkins still unproven.

    But unlike this past offseason, the 49ers now know they have one of the NFL’s elite receivers to build around. Crabtree has proven he belongs in that category.

    And, coupled with Kaepernick’s stronger arm and penchant for going deep, Crabtree has had more of a chance to develop.

    “It’s really just him throwing the ball and giving us a chance and really pushing us with his arm,” Crabtree told CBS Sports recently. “The guy can throw so hard, so far – it really just makes you step up your speed, your focus. It brings the best out of all of us.”

    Also, Crabtree says his growth was accelerated by being able to practice and play with Moss, who acted as a mentor for the entire receiving corps.

    Going into this past season, Harbaugh told reporters he thought Crabtree had the best hands of anyone he’d ever seen. In 2012, Crabtree certainly validated his coach’s words.

    “Name a guy who catches the ball better,” Harbaugh said during the playoffs. “All he does is continue to catch and catch and catch the ball. … This isn’t a new or recent thing, really, in my mind. He’s got a lot of skill. He’s very productive. And he loves to compete.”

    One area in which Crabtree is particularly dangerous is in picking up yards after a reception. He ranked No. 7 in the NFL in 2012 with 465 yards-after-catch. In the postseason he was No. 1 with 138 of his 285 yards coming after he’d caught the ball.

    As 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said, “Crabtree has been unbelievable this season.”

    Whether the 49ers add Harvin or another wideout or two this offseason to beef up the receiving corps, Crabtree’s stock should continue to climb, especially now that he’s paired with Kaepernick.

    “And that’s the way it should be,” Willis said. “Each season you’re supposed to get better.”

    Each season, Crabtree has.