We'll continue our run of looking at the projected starters on the San Francisco 49ers this coming season, and today we'll be looking at wide receiver Michael Crabtree. The wide receiver depth chart isn't yet set, with new faces like A.J. Jenkins, Randy Moss and Mario Manningham vying for playing time, but it's a pretty safe bet that Crabtree, who has a leg-up on the competition, will be one of the starters.
Last Season: Crabtree started out poor, as always since he has yet to play in a preseason game in the NFL, but he did get a lot better as the season went on. He, like many players on the offense, had a little trouble devouring the entirety of Jim Harbaugh's playbook, and as such was part of a limited offense. Perhaps the best sign in 2011 was the fact that he wasn't dropping footballs - when he got his hands on them, he made some pretty spectacular passes. That being said, he still has yet to break 1,000 yards.
Big Question: Will he play in the preseason and, if so, will he look good right out of the gate? The 49ers need a No. 1 receiver, and being that Crabtree was drafted in the top ten and felt he deserved top five money, he's the likely candidate to fill that roll. But as it happens, it's not looking entirely likely. Crabtree has a lot of work to do, and that starts with his own preparation. San Francisco doesn't need a guy who turns it on mid-way through the season.
Projection: Smart money is on Crabtree flourishing as Harbaugh's system really takes hold and all the ins-and-outs are revealed. That isn't to say that he'll be a No. 1 guy and one of the best receivers in the league, but there's too much natural talent there, and too many potential 10-yard slant routes to ignore. The guy just has that kind of skillset to do well once he has the ball in his hands and if it all doesn't come together this season, it probably won't ever. Luckily, there's a good chance it does.