Shortly after taking Michael Crabtree with No. 10 pick in the draft on Saturday, Coach Mike Singletary was on the phone with the Texas Tech receiver.
“How do you feel about being a 49er?” Singletary asked him.
“Coach, I feel great about that,” Crabtree answered.
The feeling is mutual. As the dynamic receiver slipped down the draft board, the 49ers grew increasingly giddy. To their shock, the most accomplished pass-catcher in draft fell right into their laps.
It took some help from the Raiders, who rattled the draft board by making Darrius Heyward-Bey the first receiver chosen at No. 7. But the Jaguars and Packers passed too, leaving the 49ers on the clock.
They could’ve been on a stopwatch.
“Once he was there, it was over,” General Manager Scot McCloughan said.
Crabtree caught 231 passes, 41 for touchdowns in just two seasons with the Red Raiders. He is 6 feet 2 inches and 215 pounds and brings just about every skill on the receiver checklist – Crabtree can run after the catch, make grabs in traffic and block like a lineman.
About the only thing he lacks is elite straight-line speed. His 40-yard time is listed at 4.53 seconds, which explains why the speed-loving Raiders yawned and instead took Heyward-Bey, whose 4.29 was the fastest among all players at the scouting combine.
Still, Crabtree is somehow always swift enough to be in the right place. As the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said in addressing the pick: “I don’t know how fast he is and I don’t care. Just look at the tape.”
The 49ers looked at the film and saw a receiver athletic enough to make catches in traffic and strong enough to beat press coverage. Citing Arizona’s Pro Bowl receiver, McCloughan called Crabtree “the closest thing I’ve seen to Anquan Boldin.”
Crabtree, a native of Dallas, has another comparison in mind. “I’ve got a little Michael Irvin in me,” he said.
To some teams, the link to Irvin might seem a little too apt. There were rumblings that Crabtree acted like a prima donna during his pre-draft interviews, turning off teams with his ego and entourage. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the Browns, at No. 5, went so far as to cross Crabtree off their draft list because of his behavior at team headquarters.
The 49ers heard the rumblings, too, so Singletary, a Texas native himself, picked up the phone to find out more about the player, his family and his background. Singletary even called the ultimate prima donna, Deion Sanders, who knows Crabtree well.
Sanders assured him that the receiver was just a confident kid who knows who he is and what he wants to achieve.
“A little swagger is fine with me,” Singletary said.
Crabtree’s slide down the draft board probably has more to do with his foot than his mouth. He had surgery during the off-season to repair a stress fracture in his foot. The recovery time is estimated at two months, meaning Crabtree will be limited to the walk-through portion of the 49ers’ rookie mini-camp next Saturday.
The 49ers expect Crabtree to be 100 percent by the start of training camp, McCloughan said. Crabtree said: “I was just waiting on any team to pick me. I’m a 49er now, so I’m ready to run.”
Crabtree seemed unfazed by questions about his speed. “I’ve never been caught from behind,” he said. “And I’d like to keep it that way.”
Crabtree’s football career began as a standout quarterback at Carter High in Dallas, where he was also such a talented basketball player that Bobby Knight tried to recruit him to play basketball at Texas Tech.
Crabtree once took a football recruiting trip to Texas, but the Longhorns wanted to convert him to cornerback. That was a deal-killer.
“I score touchdowns,” Crabtree told them.
The 49ers haven’t had a receiver reach 1,000 yards since Terrell Owens in 2003. The team’s leading receiver from last season, Isaac Bruce (835 yards), turns 37 in November.
But along with fellow youngster Josh Morgan, Crabtree suddenly brings hope to the 49ers’ long stagnant offense. Other receivers on the roster include Jason Hill, Brandon Jones and Arnaz Battle.
So where do they all fit?
“We’ll figure it out,” Singletary said. “The most important thing is, we’ve got a playmaker.”
(Distributed by MCT)