After three sub-par seasons in San Francisco to start his career, the light bulb finally went off for wide receiver Michael Crabtree in 2012. He led the 49ers in receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns by securing 85 passes for 1,105 yards receiving and nine touchdowns.
Moreover, he turned in two 100-yard receiving games over the course of three playoff games.
Even though the 49ers didn’t win the Super Bowl in 2012, Crabtree appeared to be on his way to superstardom. Not to mention the fact he was also finally starting to live up to his lofty draft status (former 10th-overall pick in 2009).
However, life rarely follows suit, especially in the NFL. Mike Garafolo of the USA Today tweeted out a short time ago that Crabtree suffered a torn Achilles yesterday during San Francisco’s organized team activities.
Obviously, the best-case scenario would be a partial tear that doesn’t require surgery. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Christ Mortensen of ESPN.com has already tweeted out the fact that Crabtree underwent surgery on his torn Achilles.
For those of you who don’t remember, Terrell Suggs partially tore his Achilles last May. He rehabbed the injury on his own and returned five months later to help the Baltimore Ravens win the Super Bowl.
Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas of the Denver Broncos suffered the same type of injury back in 2011. Thomas didn’t recover as quickly as Suggs did, but he did return to action seven months later, as good as new. His seven-month timetable fell right in between the suggested six-to-eight-month recovery timetable.
So there is hope that Crabtree could indeed return in time for a playoff run in 2013. But before we look too far ahead, it’s important to analyze the impact his injury has on the 49ers’ offense, roster and championship aspirations.
The immediate question stemming from Crabtree’s injury is: Who will step in and replace the former first-round pick? The most obvious answer is newly acquired wideout Anquan Boldin, but the most logical answer is 2012 redshirt rookie A.J. Jenkins.
Jenkins had a hard time finding the field last season. He even went as far as saying it was a humbling experience, according to Eric Branch of sfgate.com. Humbling is right, when one considers the lack of playing time he received in 2012.
He logged 37 offensive snaps during the regular season and 10 offensive snaps in postseason play. Only wide receiver Chad Hall played fewer snaps last year. Jenkins’ low snap total was attributed to the talent in front of him and his inability to learn the offensive playbook in a timely manner.
A full season of watching and waiting should allow the second-year wide receiver to step in and contribute right away. Additionally, the 49ers drafted Louisiana Tech wideout Quinton Patton and Rice tight end Vance McDonald.
Both players may see more playing time than originally expected because of Crabtree’s injury. Yet head coach Jim Harbaugh rarely puts a lot of stock in first-year players. This, in turn, could open the door for a street free-agent signing.
The biggest name out there who makes the most sense is former New England Patriots wide receiver Brandon Lloyd. Lloyd is familiar with the Bay Area, and in his one game against the 49ers last season; he torched San Francisco to the tune of 190 yards receiving on 10 catches.
The only knock on Lloyd is his "unique personality." Sure, his age is working against him as well, but that doesn’t mean he is done physically. If one were to include the playoffs, he posted over a 1,000 yards receiving last year.
With roster implications being the most immediate concern, the second-most talked-about aspect of the injury is what it means for the 49ers' playoff hopes. Honestly, the injury is a big blow to San Francisco’s passing game, but it shouldn’t have much of an affect on playoff implications.
The Niners are one of the deepest teams in the NFL on both sides of the ball. They are also one of the few teams in the NFL who can draft based on the need for depth alone. Moreover, let’s not forget the fact that San Francisco still has Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Vernon Davis and Mario Manningham.
By no means are they suddenly starved for offensive talent. Outside of the quarterback position, one player rarely changes the entire landscape of a season for an organization. Football is the ultimate team sport, so Harbaugh will approach the situation with the "next man up" mentality.
Aside from a wealth of talent on the offensive side of the ball, the 49ers will look to pick up where they left off on the defensive side of the ball as well. Statistically, San Francisco fielded the third-best defense in the NFL last year.
Without question, the injury was unfortunate, but injuries are a part of the game. There is a reason why teams draft and sign quality backups during the offseason. 49er fans shouldn’t fret, as the Niners will still be in Super Bowl contention as long as general manager Trent Baalke is calling the shots.