It’s always a shame to see a football player go down with an injury, especially when it’s a freak injury months before the season starts that could end up costing a player an entire season in the prime of his career, as is the case with San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree.
The loss of Crabtree is huge for San Francisco, as he was their leading receiver last year, and an instrumental part of their run to the Super Bowl. However, even if Crabtree were to miss the entire season, which is a distinct possibility, that would not be a deal breaker for the 49ers in 2013.
The 49ers are undoubtedly one of the top favorites to reach the Super Bowl this season, which shouldn’t be a surprise, considering how talented their roster is. But it’s because they have such a talented roster that the 49ers will be able to withstand injuries to key players, even an injury to a player as important as Crabtree. San Francisco is deep enough and balanced enough, and so they will not be derailed by a single injury, even Crabtree’s.
The 49ers may have to reach the Super Bowl in 2013 without Crabtree, but they dealt with injuries to key players in 2012, and it didn’t seem to be a hindrance to reaching the Super Bowl. The injury to quarterback Alex Smith was the most significant, but that injury led to Smith being permanently replaced by Colin Kaepernick, who raised the level of play for the entire offense. Now that Kaepernick has the experience of last year’s playoff run under his belt, he should be able to handle more responsibility for the productivity of the offense, regardless of who his receivers are. Kaepernick relied a lot on Crabtree last year, but as he continues to establish himself in the league, he will learn to rely less on particular receivers and adapt to the personnel around him. If Kaepernick can raise his level of play, it will make the absence of Crabtree less noticeable.
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The loss of Crabtree will also be lessened by the return of Mario Manningham, who was limited to 11 games last season, and never completely got in the flow of the offense during his first season with the 49ers. There will be a lot of pressure on Manningham to produce without Crabtree playing alongside him, but he’s a quality starting wide receiver, and he has experience playing for a Super Bowl champion, so he should be able to fill the void left by Crabtree.
Furthermore, even if Crabtree misses the entire season, the 49ers retain a strong contingent of receivers. In addition to Manningham, San Francisco has the recently acquired Anquan Boldin, tight end Vernon Davis, rookie wide receiver Quinton Patton, and rookie tight end Vance McDonald. Boldin was integral to Baltimore winning the Super Bowl last year, and he can be just as important to San Francisco this year. Davis was unproductive for large stretches of last season, but he has potential to become Kaepernick’s most reliable target, especially in key situations. Patton and McDonald both have the potential to be useful additions to the San Francisco offense in their rookie seasons.
With such a wide array of talent, a young and improving quarterback, and a quality corps of receivers, the 49ers shouldn’t be derailed by the loss of Crabtree. As disappointing as it is to lose their top receiver from a year ago, in won’t be a deal breaker in San Francisco returning to the Super Bowl this season.