Since that injury, Crabtree has not looked like the same player. To make matters worse, the chemistry he once shared with Kaepernick seemed to evaporate, as the quarterback appeared to regress. Once Crabtree’s deal expired, there was little interest from the player or team to rekindle the relationship.
Despite an unproductive contract year, Reception Perception identified Michael Crabtree as a player getting a bum rap. Many analysts were unconvinced this former high draft pick would get his career back on track. However, his Reception Perception data told a story of a player who was still very effective, and just needed a new home. Interest in free agency was minimal, amid rumors of locker room personality, injury and money concerns. All that being said, and contrary to popular belief, Michael Crabtree performed very well on the field last season.
Crabtree’s Success Rate Versus Coverage scores from his 2014 Reception Perception sample were astounding. The former 49ers wide receiver scored well above the current average charted for NFL receivers in each SRVC category. No matter what brand of coverage he faced, he freed himself with regularity.
While the injuries have taken their toll on Crabtree, he has strengthened other aspects of his game. One of the best route runners in the NFL, he uses nuance and subtleties to get open. Playing in a division that features the Seattle Seahawks, and the Legion of Boom, Crabtree had to master his release techniques to get off jams. His ability in this area was reflected in a 74.2 percent SRVC against press. His savvy is reflected in a percent SRVC against zone. While quickness and technique are his calling cards against man coverage, scoring an impressive 70 percent SRVC. All three figures are at least five points higher than the average among NFL wide receivers charted for Reception Perception.
With such strong numbers against coverage, it’s natural to wonder why Crabtree was not more productive last season. It appears that the disconnect between his style, and the ability of his former quarterback, was too much to overcome. Kaepernick is very much a “see-it-throw-it” brand of passer. He does not anticipate, or throw open his receivers, but rather locks on to one option and delivers the ball to a spot. His evolution into this type of quarterback has become more conducive to the style of Anquan Boldin, rather than the timing nature of Crabtree’s game.
For context’s sake, its paramount to note how often Crabtree ran each route on the tree. On 229 routes from his eight-game sample, he did not run one pattern on more than 15.3 percent of his attempts. This player is one of the more balanced route runners in the NFL.
As mentioned, the injuries have altered what Crabtree can and cannot do on the football field. At this stage of his career, he is no longer a vertical threat. Crabtree’s 34.4 percent SRVC on nine-routes is far below the current NFL average. He does not possesses the speed to separate in the deep game. It would be unfair to expect him to have the same playmaking skills that once made him so highly regarded out of Texas Tech.
However, the nine was the only route in which Crabtree posted a poor SRVC figure. Everywhere else, he scores anywhere from above average to outstanding. He was particularly impressive on curls, slants and flat routes. With excellent precision, route discipline and timing, Crabtree is able to consistently win on these patterns. While players who succeed in the short to intermediate game are occasionally slapped with a pejorative label, they bring immense value to an offense. Which brings us to Crabtree’s fit with his new team.
Now a member of the Oakland Raiders, the underrated Crabtree brings a stabilizing presence to the passing game. With a rookie second-round pick, Derek Carr, under center for the entirety of the 2014 season, the Raiders were an up-and-down throwing team. This continued a trend of featuring mediocre aerial attacks over the last decade. Oakland hasn’t nailed down the quarterback spot, or assimilate a suitable veteran to a young receiver corps. With Crabtree seeming to fit well with Carr, that may soon change.
Despite coming out of college lauded for his arm talent, Carr mostly managed the short areas of the field as a rookie. His 5.46 yards per attempt figure was one of the lowest in the NFL last season. The coaches may not have asked much of him, but he also struggled when called to throw in difficult situations. Per Pro Football Focus, Carr was the least proficient starting quarterback on deep passes, with a 23.9 percent accuracy percentage. Throwing under duress was yet another area of struggle, as PFF defined Carr as accurate on 54.2 percent of his pass attempts when pressured.
Carr was a rookie last season, so it’s reasonable to expect some of these struggles. But having Crabtree around will make his job easier. Their new addition easily bested any Oakland receiver’s SRVC scores against man and zone coverage from last season. With Carr’s lack of proficiency as a deep passer, and Crabtree’s inability to separate vertically, the two shouldn’t feel forced to extend the others’ weaknesses. Instead, they can complement each others’ strengths.
Should the Raiders continue asking Carr to work as a primarily short to intermediate level passer, he’ll find Crabtree a useful presence. His SRVC scores on slants, flats and curls are among the best in the NFL. Oakland has a player who can create separation based on timing and route precision for the first time in years. If Carr develops further as an anticipatory passer, Crabtree will have his best statistical season in years.