When Jim Harbaugh said on KNBR yesterday that Michael Crabtree has the "best hands I've ever seen," I was reminded of last offseason when Harbaugh said Alex Smith was a "very accurate passer." Or when he said Smith was an "elite" quarterback. Or when he insisted Smith deserved a spot in the Pro Bowl.
Not only does Harbaugh always back his players publicly, he pumps up the players that are in need of a little inflating. Last year that was Smith, who had been kicked around like no other 49er in the last quarter century but who responded with the best season of his career.
This year Crabtree may be getting the same kind of treatment. Crabtree hasn't been a bust in San Francisco. But he certainly hasn't lived up to his draft status - no. 10 overall - nor has he come close to being someone deserving of being paid as a Top 5 pick, which was Crabtree's stance during his loooooonnnnng contract impasse in 2009.
To this point, Crabtree has not shown elite hands. He ended the 2009 season as one of the league leaders in dropped passes, according to STATS LLC, despite playing an abbreviated season. He and Smith were notoriously out of sync in the beginning of the 2010 season, which led to a rash of interceptions. Some were Smith's fault. Others glanced off of Crabtree's hands into the arms of defenders.
Crabtree had the best season of his career last year and led the 49ers in receiving. But his production dipped in the playoffs. He had three notable drops against the Saints. Against the Giants he caught one pass for three yards.
By all accounts, Crabtree is having a marvelous offseason, and he does look fluid and fast in the snippets we have seen of him. The 49ers are hoping that he goes through a full offseason for the first time in his career, that he benefits from a deep and
complimentary complementary receiving corps, and as a result, he has a true breakout season for the 49ers.
But does Crabtree need a confidence boost? It seems like the receiver's self-appraisal always has been sky high (See: contract dispute, summer-fall 2009). He and Randy Moss reportedly have become fast friends, bantering and parrying in practices. Crabtree even went so far as to compare himself to Moss, a likely hall of famer, during a chat on the team's web site:
"He was my favorite player since I started playing football," Crabtree wrote. "I would hate to say this, but he's like an older version of me. He's a good guy to be around. All receivers like to have fun, we don't do anything but run all day."
-- Matt Barrows