Oakland Raiders Film Room Special: Michael Crabtree

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Jan 5, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree (15) attempts to make a catch as Green Bay Packers cornerback Davon House (31) defends during the first quarter of the 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The contract is signed and Michael Crabtree is now an Oakland Raider. Even though the contract is only for a year this isn’t a signing that should be overlooked. Crabtree may not be the top 5 elite receiver he thinks he is, but he is a very above average #2 receiver who should be a valuable weapon for Carr in 2015. With the Crabtree signing in place, the temptation will be to lower the priority of drafting an elite receiver in 2015, but that would be a mistake. Crabtree would largely benefit from being paired up with Amari Cooper or Kevin White, as both of those receivers are more explosive and would immediately be better at threatening the defense vertically and rolling coverage away from Crabtree. The only exception to this would be if Leonard Williams is available at #4 – can’t pass on that opportunity.

Crabtree is familiar with a lot of West Coast passing concepts that Musgrave is expected to be running in the offense this year. Despite not being exceptionally fast or tall, Crabtree is a savvy route runner, with a great knack for finding the soft spots in the defense. His route running talents fit right into the sweet spot of routes quarterback Derek Carr is particularly comfortable throwing. Quick outs, crossing routes (dig & drive), and comebacks are Crabtree’s specialties. He’s one of the top players in the league at catching Carr’s most productive pass of 2014 – the back-shoulder throw.

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This isn’t to say that Crabtree is a perfect receiver. He does occasionally disappear in games and can struggle getting open against the top corners in the league. He hasn’t had a 100 yard game since the Wild Card game in 2013, but some of that is due to the 49ers’ overall offensive struggles last season.

Crabtree was playing out of position as the X receiver in SF, on an offense with poor pass blocking and QB accuracy issues. The X receiver is usually the taller and faster receiver (think Calvin Johnson, vintage Larry Fitzgerald, etc.) who demands double coverage and spreads out the defense by simply being on the field. The Z receiver generally lines up on the strong side of the offense and runs routes concepts in tandem with the tight end, or with the X if lined up in the slot. The Z uses their route running and defensive reads to get open as the defense shifts away from them. Sound like anyone on SF last year? Yes – Crabtree, Boldin, and Johnson.

In Oakland, hopefully Crabtree will be able to avoid such redundancy, and settle in as the true Z receiver on the field. On the following pages we’ll examine the strengths of Crabtree which coincide with the cross-section of Musgrave’s previous play-calling and Carr’s preferences. Crabtree has a lot to prove this season, which should be beneficial to the Silver and Black. If he does prove himself, we’ll have plenty of entertainment to enjoy.

Next: Hitting the Carr Sweet Spot