Chris McClain: What are some of the biggest pros and cons of him?
Chris Biderman: Crabtree is an instinctual receiver with very good hands. He can be physical and competitive for the ball in traffic. But following his Achilles tear in 2013, he wasn’t the same players for the 49ers. He came into the league as a very good route runner and who was very good after the catch. But he lost some his quickness and agility with the injury. The fact that he had a down season in a contract year could mean he enters 2015 with some extra motivation.
CM: How do you see him fitting in with the Raiders? What can he provide?
CB: I think he brings a veteran presence that has grown from playing in big games, including the Super Bowl three years ago when he caught five passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. He likes the spotlight and has plenty of confidence. He’s typically quiet, but outspoken when he needs to be. He could be a leader among a group of inexperienced receivers, as long as he is being productive and used as often as he likes. In the right offense, complimented by more explosive receivers, I believe Crabtree can still be a productive starter. He won’t get much separation against most corners, which will put the emphasis on Derek Carr’s accuracy. But Crabtree could be better fit with Carr than he was Colin Kaepernick, who has struggled with accuracy and touch in 2014.
CM: Many people have noted his "diva" tendencies. Have you noticed the same thing when working with him?
CB: I think those ideas are a little exaggerated. No, Crabtree doesn’t typically like talking to the media. And yes, he can appear irritated when he’s not being productive. But, to me, that reads as him being competitive and having high expectations for himself, which isn’t a bad thing. As far as I can tell, there’s been no reason to question his work ethic or passion for the game. The fact he was able to return to the field just months after tearing his Achilles proves that. It’s hard to fault receivers for being confident and believing that the team’s best chance at winning is by getting him the ball. In my experience with Crabtree, those are the roots of his personality.
CM: How much did the achilles and other lower-leg injuries affect him?
CB: Pretty significantly. He was never a speed burner, but he was a good enough route runner to get by. He lost some of that change-of-direction quickness that got him open and made him tough to handle with the ball in his hands. His 4.0 yards after catch last season tied his career worst, after notching 6.4 in his 1,100-yard season of 2012. Crabtree didn’t appear to be in the best shape entering last season, which could have also played a role in his down year. Entering his contract year, he might not have pushed himself physically in the offseason fearing that he might injure himself again and leave a great deal of cash on the table. That being said, he’s two years removed from his injury.
CM: What was the biggest factor to him drawing such little interest from other teams, including the 49ers?
CB: The knock on Crabtree - and his camp - might be inflated self worth. Remember, Crabtree held out the first five games of his pro career because he believed he should be paid more than the 10th pick in the draft because many thought he was slotted to go higher. He was willing to sacrifice his first training camp and early portion of his rookie season for a few extra dollars. There’s a good chance Crabtree’s camp came into this offseason thinking he was going to get more money than the market would dictate. Considering his physical limitations and career beset by nagging foot and leg injuries, the money for Crabtree simply wasn’t there. He bet on himself by not taking an extension with the 49ers last summer and it might have backfired. It’s clear he entered 2014 thinking he would be one of the top receivers on the market, but that never materialized after his down season. San Francisco didn’t want him back because they needed a receiver with separation skills to compliment Anquan Boldin. Given their speed limitations, Crabtree and Boldin were too similar in style - which led to the 49ers wanting Torrey Smith to stretch the defense. And if Crabtree did return with Smith in the fold, the team was weary of trotting him out in a third receiver’s role.
CM: Is there any other information you can provide regarding the wide receiver?
CB: Crabtree is a good teammate who leads by example. But he simply doesn’t have the physical tools anymore to be much more than an average starter. But there’s upside in bringing him in on a one-year, ‘prove-it’ deal. Giving him incentives while also forcing him to play for another contract is the best-case scenario for Crabtree at this point in his career. As I said, the Raiders would be smart to pair him with an explosive receiver that takes the top off opposing defenses, letting him do the dirty work underneath. I’d imagine Oakland would be willing to do so with one of their draft picks, perhaps as early as the fourth pick in the first round with either Amari Cooper or Kevin White.