49ers surprisingly able to draft Michael Crabtree
April 26, 2009
SANTA CLARA ” When Michael Crabtree unexpectedly slipped to the 10th pick in Saturday’s NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers eagerly caught their highest-profile receiver since Terrell Owens left town.
Crabtree claimed he was delighted to join the 49ers after his record-setting career at Texas Tech, where he won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best college receiver after each of his two seasons. He was widely considered the best pass-catcher in the draft, and San Francisco was thrilled to address its longtime dearth of star talent at the position where Jerry Rice, Dwight Clark, John Taylor and Owens once excelled.
“We had no idea he would be there at 10,” coach Mike Singletary said. “It was one of the last scenarios we thought we would end up with. He’s been one of the best guys, the past couple of years in college football.”
Crabtree is among the college game’s most dynamic playmakers of recent years, catching 231 passes for 3,127 yards and 41 touchdowns in the Red Raiders’ spread offense. Yet he clearly slipped in several teams’ estimation when a stress fracture was discovered in his left foot at the combine.
He underwent surgery that scuttled much of his pre-draft workout schedule while he rested his foot in a protective boot, never running a 40-yard dash. He’s not expected to participate fully in next weekend’s minicamp while continuing his recovery, but should be ready for training camp.
Nine teams passed on him ” including the cross-Bay rival Oakland Raiders, who went with Maryland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey with the seventh pick. While Crabtree’s statistics dwarf Heyward-Bey’s accomplishments with the Terrapins, the Raiders apparently thought Crabtree wasn’t fast enough to fit their needs.
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“My whole thing was patience,” Crabtree said. “I was just trying to be patient. I like the 49ers. I grew up watching the 49ers and Cowboys. It’s a great history behind the 49ers. A lot of people have played there, and I have big shoes to fill.”
The developments delighted the 49ers’ draft room, where the club’s selection process suddenly became easy when Jacksonville didn’t choose Crabtree with the eighth pick.
“I really didn’t think it would happen,” general manager Scot McCloughan said. “That’s a long way for a guy like that to fall, to 10. … He’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Anquan Boldin in college football. He’s a highly competitive guy that’s not afraid to make plays.”
Crabtree was the 49ers’ only selection on the draft’s first day after they traded their second-round and fourth-round picks to Carolina for the Panthers’ first-round pick in 2010. McCloughan said he didn’t have a player on his draft board who justified the salary that would be required for the 43rd overall pick.
With remarkable catching skills, a solid blocking technique and what Texas Tech coach Mike Leach described as an inexhaustible work ethic, Crabtree clearly is the biggest addition to the 49ers’ receiving corps since Owens left after the 2003 season.
Crabtree doesn’t shy from praises of his talent.
“When I played quarterback, I always wanted a receiver … where I could just throw it up and he could go get it,” Crabtree said. “Or if I threw a pass, I knew he was going to cut in front of that DB and not let the interception happen, and make a play. I said I wanted to play receiver as soon as I got to college, and I kept that with me, and I’m never going to turn back.”
San Francisco has had some of the NFL’s least impressive groups of pass-catchers since then, struggling through five years with few solid receivers for quarterbacks Alex Smith and Shaun Hill, but their targets should be a whole lot more impressive next year. Isaac Bruce will be back for another season alongside Arnaz Battle, returning youngsters Josh Morgan and Jason Hill, and free-agent signee Brandon Jones.
Singletary doesn’t yet know where Crabtree will play, although McCloughan sees him as a split end.
“We’ll figure it out,” Singletary said. “You’ve got a playmaker. He’s going to have to earn his way on, but the most important thing is that we know we have a playmaker.”
Leach was effusive about Crabtree’s toughness and tenacity. He also responded harshly to pundits and unnamed NFL coaches who have labeled Crabtree as a high-maintenance prima donna.
“There’s no diva in him, and part of that is because he’s too shy to do that,” Leach said. “He’s got people around him that want to share in his experience and share in this moment, but when all that’s over, Michael knows it’s a whole lot of time in the film room by himself, a whole lot of time in the weight room. … I’ve seen Michael Crabtree run from the spotlight more than I’ve seen him chase the spotlight.”
Oakland uses seventh pick on speedy Heyward-Bey
ALAMEDA ” Al Davis has always prized speed above almost all other attributes when it comes to the draft.
So when the Oakland Raiders had their choice of wideouts to pick with the seventh selection in the draft on Saturday they went with the fastest, taking Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey over other higher-rated or more accomplished players.
What made the selection of Heyward-Bey one of the bigger surprises of the draft was that Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin ” the top-rated receivers by most experts ” were both still available. Those two had higher grades, better numbers and more publicity than Heyward-Bey, but couldn’t match him in breakaway speed.
Heyward-Bey was clocked at 4.23 seconds in the 40-yard dash in 2006 at Maryland and had the fastest time of any player at the NFL combine at 4.3 seconds to go with his 6-foot-2 size and 381/2-inch vertical leap.
“When you look at the history of the great receivers who have been Oakland Raiders, it’s always been about that vertical speed, being able to stretch the field, take that top off the defense,” coach Tom Cable said. “This certainly does that for us.”
The Raiders had a glaring need to find a receiver to complement quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft.
Johnnie Lee Higgins led all of Oakland’s wideouts with 22 catches for 366 yards last season, and the team had just 82 receptions in all from the position. Higgins and rookie Chaz Schilens were the starters at the end of last season. Javon Walker is also in the mix as he recovers from an ankle injury that cost him the second half of last season.
“This is a guy that I had targeted a month ago,” Cable said. “He’s the one guy who’s made everyone better around him. We needed the ability to throw the ball over people’s head and JaMarcus has obviously shown he can out-throw most everything. This is a guy now who can go run that down and catch it.”
Heyward-Bey caught just 13 touchdown passes in three seasons at Maryland, never reaching 800 yards receiving in a season. He had career-lows last season with 42 catches for 609 yards to go with his five TD catches.
Those numbers paled in comparison to what Crabtree and Maclin put up in spread offenses.
Crabtree caught 97 passes for 1,165 yards and 19 touchdowns last season at Texas Tech and was widely expected to be the first receiver selected. But there were questions about his speed and a stress fracture that was discovered in his left foot at the combine. He ended up going 10th to San Francisco, so the Raiders won’t have to look far to see how the decision turns out.
Maclin had 102 catches for 1,260 yards and 13 touchdowns last season at Missouri, where he was also a dangerous returner. He went 19th to Philadelphia.
“I don’t know why I moved ahead of those guys, but definitely the Raiders saw something in me,” Heyward-Bey said. I feel like I had the qualities to be the best receiver in the class. I know people look at the stats and everything, but just playing in the pro-style offense and having the skills and being able to be taught and listen and work hard, I felt like I was definitely at the top.”
Cable compared Heyward-Bey to Randy Moss, one of the most dynamic receivers in the game but one who struggled in his two seasons in Oakland. He said he was attracted by Heyward-Bey’s experience in a pro-style offense, calling him the best route-runner of the three top receivers and downplaying his inferior college numbers.
“If you put the spread system at this level, it doesn’t really exist,” Cable said. “Those numbers would be dramatically different. I think the one great comparison that I did that really showed this was the right guy for me, if I put him in that same system, he might have been over 50 touchdowns. He’s that talented.
The Raiders also passed up on Eugene Monroe, one of the highest-rated tackles in the draft. Oakland struggled at that position last season but Cable believes that returners Mario Henderson and Cornell Green, as well as free-agent signees Khalif Barnes and Erik Pears will solidify that position.
The Raiders traded down in the second round with New England, moving from 40th to 47th overall and getting picks in the fourth and sixth round as well. They ended up with safety Mike Mitchell of Ohio, a player Cable called the “most ferocious hitter in the draft.”
Mitchell was so unheralded that he wasn’t even invited to the combine, but had been rapidly moving up team’s draft boards in recent weeks after a strong pro day performance when he ran a 4.43 40-yard dash.
Safety was a big need for the Raiders, who had only three on the roster in Hiram Eugene, Tyvon Branch and Michael Huff.