As dynasty owners, we become obsessed with players who had dynamite performances the second half of last season. As we know, that frequently signals an upcoming breakout season. However, we often get caught up with fantasy grudges that cloud our judgment. When I say grudges, I mean owners who were burned in the past by a specific player that further downgrade the individual to an extreme and claim they’ll never draft him again. That creates a value free fall and a tremendous opportunity for many. We just need to look past those highly publicized grudges and aggressively target these type of players.
There is one player who is unjustly underrated and currently presents a great buy opportunity. He does not come without controversy and often creates polarizing opinions that are typically negative. Because of this, many owners’ views are clouded and they miss out on a value opportunity.
If I were to tell you there is a fourth year starting wide receiver who is 24 years old who struggled early in the 2011 season, but in his final nine games put together 47 receptions for 611 yards, would he be a 2012 target or breakout candidate for you? He should be considering that production extrapolated is 84 receptions for 1,100 yards over an entire season. That would have ranked him as the #16 fantasy wide receiver in PPR leagues in 2011. However, this wide receiver is currently ranked by experts and drafted by the masses as follows:
On its surface, a wide receiver with that kind of second half production ranked and drafted this late is crazy. However, if I told you that this wide receiver is Michael Crabtree, I would imagine this makes a lot more sense. Many currently love to hate Crabtree.
There are certainly concerns with Crabtree considering the competition for targets with the presence of Vernon Davis, along with the additions of Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, and AJ Jenkins. To add to that, the 49ers are also a ground-and-pound team, which makes 120 targets or more very unlikely. There is no denying this. However, his second half of 2011 cannot be ignored, either.
Below are specific statistics from the second half of 2011 as compared to the first half. You’ll see that in the second half of 2011, there was a clear change in Crabtree’s performance. While certain qualitative concerns exist and should be considered, the below is a fantastic sign for his 2012 prospects. Despite this, he is still underdrafted.
In looking at the above, note the following:
1.) From weeks one through eight, Crabtree did not consistently receive playing time; his snaps ranged from 32% of total team snaps to 83%.
2.) After week nine, Crabtree consistently played 65% or more snaps
3.) Crabtree’s catch percentage from weeks one to eight was awful and below 65% on a consistent basis
4.) After he received consistent snaps from week nine through week 17, he appeared to pick up his game and he caught a larger percentage of the passes thrown his way
Based on the above, it appears that Crabtree’s solid performance is directly correlated to how involved he is in the game. When he sees a significant number of snaps, he gets into the flow of the game and contributes to the passing attack. With that, let’s drill down to a more granular level and take a look at his production when he received 65%+ of the team’s snaps. Based on the above, that appeared to be a threshold that triggered his improved performance towards the end of 2011.
As you can see in the above breakdown, in the 12 games where Crabtree was involved more than 65% of the time, he produced at a pace that would net him 85 catches for 1,040 yards. On a points per game basis, that would have ranked him as the #26 wide receiver. With this production, Crabtree would have finished as a borderline second / solid number three fantasy wide receiver in 2011. However, he is still being drafted as a number four wide receiver.
While the above is certainly positive, don’t look past the fact that it also includes weeks three, four, and six. While Crabtree played a significant number of snaps in those weeks, it was not on a consistent basis. In the weeks before and after those three games, Crabtree was not involved in the game as much, which appears to have impacted his overall performance over that span.
Because of the inconsistency in snaps early in 2011, let’s look more closely at weeks nine through 17 where he consistently played 65% or more of the team snaps. Here is how his performance breaks down over that period:
With these numbers, Crabtree would again rank as a solid number two wide receiver. Even if you want to knock him down a bit because you feel the 110 projected targets are too high, he’s still going to be a very solid third wide receiver.
This is the most impressive cut of his 2011 performance. It covers the period where he played 65% or more of the teams snaps on a weekly basis and the impact is clear. His production, including his catch percentage, spiked with continued involvement in the game plan. While this isn’t the first time Crabtree has seen more than 65% of the team snaps routinely, it’s the first time he put the consistent snaps and production together. Maybe the first eight weeks of erratic snaps in 2011 served as his smelling salts and he finally “gets it.” It certainly appears that way.
I’m sure it’s clear from the above, but to be explicit, I’m not trying to make the argument that Crabtree is going to live up to his tremendous hype prior to his 2009 rookie season. He’s unlikely to ever be a top ten wide receiver given the start to his NFL career. However, the fact that he is currently being ranked and drafted as a fourth dynasty wide receiver is crazy. Given his production in the latter half of 2011, he belongs ranked as a top 25-30 receiver. He is a solid third wide receiver with second wide receiver potential.
Most people are scared off by Crabtree’s diva attitude, the 49ers’ receiver additions this offseason, and the fact that he hasn’t lived up to the hype thus far, but do not look past the fact that he improved each of his first three seasons, appears to finally be past his foot injury, and is coming off of a solid second half of 2011. In fact, last season’s second half is the most impressive production stretch he’s put together thus far.
Yes, the additions at wide receiver and the running game focus will likely limit his upside and prevent him from being a number one fantasy wide receiver, but the above clearly supports the fact he is worth more than the #40 wide receiver.
If I didn’t convince you that Crabtree is a borderline number two fantasy wide receiver, I hope you at least click away with the perspective that he is an unjustly underrated receiver who should be targeted by all.
Statistics above sourced from ProFootballFocus.com.