No Crabtree, Now What?
By Jake Ciely
It’s been less than a week (May 22) since news broke that 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree torn his Achilles tendon, and the fantasy football world is still spinning. With the picture still unclear to what this means for both Crabtree’s season (could miss the entire year) and for the other receivers, questions are still pouring in over what owners should do.
The fantasy stock hit is two-fold. First, you can drop Michael Crabtree from the wide receiver ranks completely. The reports say Crabtree suffered a full tear and recovery is at least six months. Season, over. Second, Colin Kaepernick’s value takes a hit. I personally dropped Kaep from seventh spot to 10th. Call me over-reactionary if you will, but when you examine what Crabtree meant to the 49ers and the chemistry he had with Kaep, you can see this will have a ripple effect.
When Kaepernick took over in Week 11, Crabtree’s value skyrocketed. He easily became Kaep’s favorite option, shown by the fact that his lowest target percentage – including the playoffs and Super Bowl – was 21.7. Crabtree topped 44 percent four times, including his 55.6 percent mark in the Super Bowl. In fact, if you take Crabtree’s average target percentage with Kaepernick at QB (35.9), he would have checked in only behind Brandon Marshall (36.8) and Andre Johnson (36.6). That number jumps to an even greater 40.6 percent on third downs. Basically, Kaepernick loved him some Crabtree.
So where do all those targets head? Sure, Vernon Davis should (finally) return to his 2009-10 ways. But then again, Kaepernick seemingly ignored him from Week 12 through the Divisional Playoff game (seven catches, 16 targets). Looking at the current team, the 49ers have Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams returning from torn ACLs (throw in a torn PCL for Manningham). There is the rookie disappointment of A.J. Jenkins, although, he still has the potential to become a solid No. 2 WR in the NFL. The 49ers took Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton in the fourth round this year, but I don’t need to tell you the level of competition there was questionable.
Then there is Anquan Boldin, and the 49ers have to be relieved beyond belief that they traded for him this offseason. Boldin has been solid, but more of a No. 1/2 hybrid receiver than legitimate No. 1 go-to option for the Ravens. Over the past three seasons, Boldin has averaged 62 receptions, 882 yards and 4.7 TDs on about 108 targets. Boldin actually saw his highest target percentage with the Ravens last season at 24.1, as he checked in with a 20.4 mark in 2011 and 20.6 in 2010 before Torrey Smith arrived. Good numbers, not No. 1 option numbers.
Crabtree’s numbers with Kaepernick extrapolate to 98 catches, 1,408 yards and 13 TDs on 149 targets for a full season. Now those are No. 1 WR numbers. Not just team No. 1 numbers, but Crabtree would have narrowly missed on beating out Calvin Johnson as fantasy’s top WR with 218.8 points to Megatron’s 220.4.
Yes, those are just projections, as we don’t have a full season with this duo together, let alone a full season from Kaepernick. That being said, Boldin is used a bit differently than Crabtree, as his percentage of slot usage was nearly double that of Crabtree’s. As for downfield ability (most would assume Crabtree would lord over Boldin) that is a hard one to analyze due to more games with Alex Smith at QB than Kaepernick, but Boldin did beat Crabtree in that area.
So where does that leave us? As mentioned, I hit Kaepernick hard in the rankings. I also moved Anquan Boldin up, but only a modest amount. I couldn’t rank him higher than Miles Austin (36th). Even with the erratic QB play and season for Jeremy Maclin and Miles Austin having another injury-plagued season, they both beat out Boldin by 9.9 and 7.3 fantasy points, respectively.
I spit-balled on Twitter that Brandon Lloyd (former 49ers wide receiver by the way) was out there. That was just tossing out ideas though, and the 49ers haven’t shown any interest… yet. As it stands, the current crop of receivers for the 49ers has taken a step back from 2012, even with the addition of Boldin. Jenkins and Patton will battle Manningham and Williams as they return from injury for the No. 2 role, but no matter who wins, it pales in comparison to what the 49ers had just a week ago.
You can expect more running from the 49ers, Kaepernick included, if they head into preseason as is. Sure, some of that will include Kaep, and it’s why I can’t drop him lower than 10th at QB. But make no mistake, Boldin is the only draftable WR as of now and Vernon Davis is now the biggest risk/reward at tight end (have him unchanged at seventh). Although, wasn’t that the case with Davis last year anyway?