Let’s dispel myth, shall we? Michael Crabtree is not a bust. He doesn’t need to “step up” in 2012; he is not on thin ice; and his selfish attitude has not handicapped his play. Though he is not an elite player, at this stage of his career he is in fact above average. More importantly, his development is trending in a positive direction.

According to advanced statistics, Crabtree’s output in the 49ers’ offensive would surpass that of Stevie Johnson, Dwayne Bowe, Desean Jackson, and even Mario Manningham.

Player

Team

DYAR

DVOA

Passes

Yards

EYds

Catch Rate

AV

C. Johnson

DET

586

33.2%

158

1680

1,905

61%

15

J. Nelson

GB

530

54.1%

96

1263

1,427

71%

15

R. White

ATL

234

3.8%

180

1296

1,503

56%

12

M. Crabtree

SF

167

6.3%

114

880

962

64%

9

S. Johnson

BUF

155

1.6%

134

1004

1,112

57%

8

D. Bowe

KC

149

.05%

142

1159

1,137

57%

7

D. Heyward-Bey

OAK

145

3.6%

115

975

942

56%

8

D. Jackson

PHI

140

6.2%

104

961

865

56%

8

 

DYAR: Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement gives numerical value to a player in comparison to a replacement-level player (as opposed to a starter). As Football Outsiders, who developed this, notes, “A player’s true value can then be measured by the level of performance he provides above that replacement level baseline, totaled over all of his run or pass attempts.” In a receiver’s case, the value is totaled over passes caught. This value is adjusted for situation and opponent, and then it is converted into yardage. In general, the higher the number, the better.

DVOA: Defense-adjust Value Above Average is also taken from Football Outsiders. I’ve already written about DVOA here. The following is just an excerpt from the previous post: DVOA is a method of evaluating players (and teams) based on situation. No two 10-yard receptions are equal. That is, a receiver catching a 10-yard pass on 3rd-and-20 is not really helpful to the team, whereas a 10-yard reception on 4th and 1 is exponentially more beneficial. DVOA attempts to measure this. It does so on a percentage scale: 0.0% is the average. As with DYAR, the higher the percentage, the better.

EYards: Effective Yards is DVOA translated into yards. From Football Outsiders: “This provides an easy comparison: in general, players with more Effective Yards than standard yards played better than standard stats would otherwise indicate, while players with fewer Effective Yards than standard yards played worse than standard stats would otherwise indicate.”

AV: Absolute Value is provided by Pro-Football Reference. This too was explained an in earlier post. As explained by BloggingtheBoys.com, AV weighs “position specific metrics (i.e. yards or points scored/allowed) with an indicator for durability (total games played and seasons as their team’s primary starter) and quality (Pro Bowl and All Pro nominations) and then normalizes all this at a team level.”

The metrics rank players on a scale from 0 to 25. The breakdown of the scale is as follows:

AV

Description

20-25

MVP quality

11-19

All-Pro/Pro Bowl quality

7-10

Starter quality

3-6

Backup/rotational quality

1-2

Role player quality

0

Camp Fodder/Practice Squad quality

 

Again, it is all to clear that Crabtree is not an elite receiver, but he is well above the average. Given the 49ers’ offense and the quarterback play he has endured, it would be unfair to expect much more than average. That is, he plays in a below average offense that features a well-below average passing attack (31st in attempts and 29th in yards). As such, he should not be singled out for his lack of production.

The most impressive stat might be Crabtree’s catch rate. Catch rate does not count drops, as it is not an official statistic, but it does show the frequency with which the receiver catches passes thrown his way. Crabtree is well above the mean, which indicates his reliability. This might be surprising given that, according to STATS, Inc., Crabtree had the 10th-most drops in the regular season. And least we forget a bout Crabtree’s playoff performance, especially in the NFC Championship, a game in which Crabtree dropped three passes (by Tim Kawakami’s count).

It is important to note that Crabtree has made steady gains in all statistical categories, as seen below:

Team

DYAR

DVOA

Passes

Yards

EYds

Catch Rate

AV

2011

167

6.3%

114

880

962

64%

9

2010

120

2.8%

100

741

811

55%

6

2009

-47

-19.8%

86

625

464

55%

6

 

This would appear to confirm Harbaugh’s praise of Crabtree following the team’s 20-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns. “He just keeps getting better and more comfortable,” said Harbaugh. “And his abilities are shining through. And he’s a consummate team type of guy, the way he has blocked. The evidence of whatever the team needs him to do, he’s willing to go do.”

Perhaps Crabtree was not worth his draft position. But it would rash to label him a bust. The extenuating circumstances, self-inflicted or otherwise, would significantly impair any player’s development. Because of this, Crabtree’s performance and potential are nearly impossible to quantify. The good news is that these circumstances no longer apply. That he is healthy and in the hands of competent coaching means his true potential will be actualized this season, for better or worse.