Since the announcements came within hours of each other yesterday, I figure there's no reason not to examine the two big NFL wide receiver acquisitions and compare their relative impacts on their teams, this year and going forward.
Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers
Crabtree was the 10th player selected in this year's NFL draft. He was perhaps a victim of Oakland's Al Davis becoming enamored with Darrius Heyward-Bey from the University of Maryland. Most projections I saw around draft day were putting him between pick five to the Browns and pick eight to the Jaguars, so while falling to tenth was probably disappointing, it was by no means a ridiculous dropoff. That's just one more puzzling part of the holdout that kept Crabtree unsigned until now.
Crabtree's holdout extended well into the season, and most fans saw it as a ridiculous sequence of events. The player was asking for money greater than players drafted in front of him because he dropped a few picks beyond where he expected to be drafted. These negotiations were the first anyone's heard of in which mock drafts and blog posts were produced as justification for more money by the player. It sounds like it was ludicrous.
But he's signed now, and it's time to assess how he can help this team. The reality is that the San Francisco 49ers have one of the weakest passing attacks in football (fifth fewest passing yards per game, and they're dead last in passing attempts per game), so adding some kind of talent might have a serious positive impact.
And make no mistake, Crabtree has got talent. There's a reason he was the #1 rated wide receiver on everybody's board in the 2009 NFL draft. He posted huge numbers and made big plays in two prolific years at Texas Tech, and he was almost always on the field for that offense, demonstrating impressive stamina. He's extremely competitive, very physical, and well-rounded. He's also more than happy to throw blocks, which fits perfectly with the 49ers run-first offense. He's only 6'1", but I don't expect his height to prevent him from becoming a solid receiver.
It's always difficult for rookie receivers to have substantial impact, and Crabtree won't likely be any different. Add to that his late arrival to the team, and San Francisco should probably be happy if he can simply run a few crisp patterns in each game over the next 3-4 weeks. Long-term, I expect Crabtree to develop into a Hines Ward type of player, and if he can provide the 49ers with some intensity and consistency, he can help bring this team all the way back from the dead.
Braylon Edwards, New York Jets
There are suspicions abound regarding the relationship between the Jets acquiring Edwards via trade and Crabtree agreeing to a deal with the 49ers. While everything I read says the Jets won't be found guilty of tampering with Crabtree, the timing of the two transactions is certainly conspicuous.
Anyways, let's focus on Braylon Edwards. Edwards had a monster season in 2007, registering 80 catches and 16 TDs, but he fell way back down to Earth last season. He caught just three touchdown passes all season, and he became famous for dropping pass after pass, regardless of quarterback. Interestingly, his yards per game fell from 80.6 right back down to around his previous average of 53.7, which begs the question: was Edwards' fantastic 2007 just an anomaly, and is that mediocre production what we should expect from year to year?
There's always the chance, of course, that his hands get better, and he suddenly becomes an elite WR, year in and year out. Unfortunately for the Jets, though, Edwards' contract runs out after this season, and there were murmurs that he was looking for $9 million a year on a new deal. If he doesn't improve, he's not worth $9 million a year, but if he does, he's worth more like $11 million a year. It's a "rock and a hard place" situation for New York, but my guess is they'd rather Edwards made their decision easy by becoming an elite wideout.
Let me just start by saying I don't think either of these players will be team-changers this season. Both the Jets and 49ers are solid teams right now, and they'll both get a little better by augmenting their receiving corps. Additionally, they're both run-first teams, so the pressure to succeed may be lessened. But I think Crabtree, despite being inexperienced and unproven, will make a greater positive impact on his team than Edwards will on his.
Crabtree's playing mentality fits beautifully with the 49ers' philosophies. He likes getting physical, he likes blocking, and he likes taking short plays and trying to break them for big plays. He's both a good complement to a strong running game, and a useful tool for a non-elite quarterback.
Edwards, meanwhile, will be expected to jump start the Jets' passing game, and bring balance to the Force...and the play-calling. The problem is, Edwards' talents are most effective when he can get loose and catch deep passes, which seem to always be difficult for young quarterbacks. Mark Sanchez looks like he's got the ability to be a nice NFL quarterback, but Edwards' presence may hinder the offense as much as it helps.
Statistically, their production might be fairly close. But I don't think we'll have any doubts at season's end which wide receiver was the bigger addition.
Projections (starting with week 5 statistics):
Michael Crabtree: 48 receptions, 625 yards, 5 TDs
Braylon Edwards: 40 receptions, 675 yards, 2 TDs
Disagree? Vote against me in the poll to the right, and we'll see what you guys think.
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