Remember the greatness of Michael Crabtree? No, not the Michael Crabtree that surpassed 1,000 yards in a season only once in six years with the San Francisco 49ers. Not the player that accused of being a plague in the 49ers locker room last season. Not the player that was used only in third and fourth down situations last year. Remember Michael Crabtree?
The tenth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. The wide receiver that every Oakland Raiders fan wanted and cringed when Al Davis passed on him. The player that AthlonSports.com ranked as the third best wide receiver to play college football since 1998.
In just two seasons with Texas Tech, Michael Crabtree caught 231 passes for 3,127 yards and 41 touchdowns. He became the first player in NCAA history to win two Biletnikoff awards and broke NCAA single season records for receptions (137), yards (1,962), and touchdowns (22).
Remember the greatness of Michael Crabtree? After the 2009 NFL Draft, here is what Hall of Fame wide receiver Chris Carter and ESPN's Trent Dilfer had to say on the star receiver.
"There's no doubt about it," said Trent Dilfer. "This is one of the most electric players in the draft. Many teams had him as their No.1 player on their board."
"When you put that tape in and you watch him (Crabtree) play football, you can tell that he loves to play the game," said Cris Carter. "At the 10th pick you're getting the best. He's the best receiver ready to play right now regardless of the foot injury. I had the same foot injury, after my rookie year, had a screw in place, a graft off my hip, they're not going to have any problems with him...he's a football player and they have a winner in San Francisco."
Why is it that when studying the 2015 NFL Draft, I thought to myself that Amari Cooper and Sammy Watkins were the two best wide receivers I had seen come out of college since Calvin Johnson? Why did it take me ten more minutes before I remembered Michael Crabtree? I remembered that he was even more elite than both Cooper and Watkins when he left Texas Tech.
It would appear what happened was Crabtree lost motivation. And sometimes what it takes to regain that motivation is change, as our own Nitesh Dutt noted recently.
The quarterback Crabtree played with the past two plus seasons in San Francisco was Colin Kaepernick. Now in Oakland he has second year pro Derek Carr throwing him the football.
Former NFL scout John Middlekauff asked several NFL executives and quarterback coaches who they'd rather have under center going forward: Derek Carr or Colin Kaepernick. The answers were a unanimous (5-0) for Carr.
"Carr's pocket presence and natural development over the ‘14 season has caught the eye of many around the NFL," said Middlekauff. "His arm strength was never the question and he has quieted the 'he may not be tough enough' crowd quickly. Everyone I spoke with was very bullish on his potential and what he will become once Oakland surrounds him with talent. Carr has definitely made the scouting/coaching community take notice early in his career."
Oakland has been piecing together a fine supporting cast to go with Crabtree. Weapons such as Amari Cooper, Rod Streater, Clive Walford, and Mychal Rivera will take an immense amount of pressure off Crabtree and spread out defenses.
If simply reviving his career and proving his doubters wrong isn't enough, Crabtree's contract gives him even more incentive to perform. He can earn a $400,000 bonus if he notches either 70 catches or 900 receiving yards in 2015. He can earn a $1.4 million bonus if he has either 100 catches or 1,400 receiving yards. He can also earn an additional $400,000 if he reaches the Pro Bowl.
Now one week of training camp, these changes have worked wonders for Crabtree. S&BP's Levi Damien has reported from camp that Crabtree has impressed on the football field and has become Derek Carr's number one option.
After the first day of training camp, Damien reported that, "Carr and Crabtree looked like they had done a mind meld today with the two hooking up numerous times. First completion he threw went to Crabtree on a 15-yard out that Carr timed well and hit Crabtree in stride. There is clearly a great chemistry already between these two. Much of it likely stems from their having worked throughout the offseason, including Crabtree joining some of his fellow receivers with Carr in his hometown of Bakersfield earlier this month."
That chemistry has continued throughout the first week of camp.
Head coach Jack Del Rio also praised Crabtree's great first day stating that, ""He stood out today and made some nice catches."
During the final team session of the day five practice, Carr "looked to Crabtree over and over on their offense's march down the field," according to Damien.
Raiders safety Charles Woodson commented on Crabtree's great camp stating, "He's crafty, he knows how to get open. You've seen him making all kinds of catches. He has great hands."
While the season is just beginning, it seems Crabtree has returned to his old form. To all of the fans of Raider Nation who are as excited about the Raiders drafting Amari Cooper as I am, remember this: There was a time when Michael Crabtree was even better than Cooper, and he is back to remind the world of who Michael Crabtree really is.