Now for another installment of our Fantasy Stock Watch periodical. This series takes a look at players who either exceeded their anticipated contributions this year, or failed to live up to them and what we can expect come 2014. The biggest concern: you want to draft based on value, rather than paying for stats that will be hard to repeat and/or paying an expectant price for development that may not come.
Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers
2013 ADP: 205 (WR60)
2013 Position Rank: WR109
2013 Expectations: Michael Crabtree
Of course, this is all a question of timeframe. If we’re talking April, the hype was there for Michael Crabtree, but most of the world wasn’t paying attention in April. By May, we weren’t sure if he’d play a game and the expectations reflected as much. Crabtree suffered an Achilles injury during OTAs and the news was devastating for the player himself, fans of the team, and the fantasy value of Colin Kaepernick, too.
Crabtree missed time in his rookie season, but has managed to appear in 47 of 48 games in the season’s in between then and 2013 and was coming off a career year in 2012. How good was his 2012 campaign? Crabtree finished as the 14th best fantasy scorer at his position that year on the strength of 85 receptions for 1105 yards and nine scores; an average of 13.0 YPR. His 72.0% catch rate was the 7th best mark in the league, backing up coach Jim Harbaugh‘s assertion that he has the best hands he’s ever seen. You’ll see from the linked 2012 article that Harbaugh has long held that belief, but this week he doubled down suggesting that if in one of the more bizarre life or death situations you can imagine (a Wesley Snipes The Fan style scenario perhaps) he’d ask Crabtree to catch the ball.
Harbaugh’s expectations were communicated in the coach’s own unique style, but the point is that at the end of the 2012 campaign we had every reason to have high hopes for #15.
2013 Results: Michael Crabtree
Again, the Achilles injury rendered the WR irrelevant before his season even started. He wasn’t fantasy relevant through the first 13 weeks of the season and 2013 was pretty much a lost year.
At time of press, Crabtree’s 2013 season is incomplete – in many respects, he’s just getting started and has an opportunity to build on a strong performance to open the playoffs in this year’s Wild Card round. With that said, I’ve seen enough from Crabtree to turn the corner on his 2013 campaign and start thinking about his stock for next fantasy season.
In five regular season appearances this year Crabtree posted 19 catches for 284 yards and found the endzone once. He wasn’t targeted in his first game back, so really those numbers are four games worth. This past week against Green Bay, Crabtree was heavily involved early and finished with 13 targets, eight receptions and 125 yards, giving him two 100 yard games over his last three.
What we’re seeing right now falls well short of an Adrian Peterson 2012 return from injury story line, but we should be impressed all the same. Naturally, it took Crabtree a while to get going after his return and the current version doesn’t appear to be his most explosive self, but the hands are on display.
2014 Outlook: Michael Crabtree
I’m sufficiently impressed by Crabtree’s efforts so far to get right back on the bandwagon for 2014. His return has completely changed the way that San Francisco operates on offense, and has brought upside back into Colin Kaepernick’s game as well.
Crabtree increased his receptions and yards year over year in each of his first four seasons in the league and I’m expecting 2013 to represent an unfortunate road block in his continuing that trend. Next year, the sky is the limit for a star receiver who won’t truly find his stride until next season. With a full offseason to rehab and rebuild strength in the tendon, which is so important to how a player pushes off, he’ll be back to full strength next year. We’d be foolish to suggest he’s playing at 100% of his ability, six games into his season and seven months removed from the injury, and he’s still able to take advantage of opposing secondaries.
Pay attention to reports on his offseason progress, but I’m expecting Crabtree to return and become one of the more targeted, more effective receivers in the league next year. Anquan Boldin was 9th in terms of total looks during the 2013 campaign, and while he was so heavily targeted in large part because of Crabtree’s absence, the veteran WR is an impending free agent and Crabtree could find himself in a similar position next year as the only proven pass catcher on the roster. Even if Boldin returns, Crabtree should be the most frequently targeted 49er. He’ll hope to build on the 118 looks he drew in 2012 (and the 123 Boldin saw this year). To close 2012, in the eight games he played after Kaepernick first entered for an injured Alex Smith, Crabtree saw 67 of those 118 looks (projecting to 134 over a full season). If he does come in around that number, and he maintains his >70% catch rate, he could approach 100 receptions in 2014 and sits as a borderline WR1 in next year’s drafts as a result.
I’m not convinced that you’re going to get any kind of a 2013 result discount on Crabtree by the time next year’s draft rolls around, but I’m not convinced that you’ll need it to be glad you chose him, either.