From Super Bowl favorites to what? Well, a season’s expectations never evaporate just because one wide receiver got injured, but the omission of Michael Crabtree for a substantial time will mean the San Francisco 49ers either recruit from the outside to fill his place (Brandon Lloyd being the top option) or simply rely on the existing core of Anquan Boldin, Mario Manningham, A.J. Jenkins and Quinton Patton can step up.
There isn’t a lot of quality left on the free agency market to fill in for Crabtree’s Achilles tear with Lloyd probably being the number one option, although that would mean he’ll just be a serious addition to the depth chart, and not the number one option. Anquan Boldin is likely to be promoted into something he knows how to play, although he provides a different kind of receiving target than Crabtree does at his best.
While the 49ers aren’t too worried about Boldin’s ability to take more of a load (had an excellent postseason and 65 passes for 921 yards last season), the other players on their wide receivers list are more of a question mark. Manningham is still recovering from his ACL tear, and wasn’t too impressive in his 12 games last season, catching 42 passes for 449 yards. Their 2012 first round pick, A.J. Jenkins, didn’t catch a single pass last season (targeted only once in three games), but the Niners are expecting him to take a major step in his development, and will probably get a lot more playing time than expected.
There’s also Quinton Patton, a fourth-round pick in 2013, who wasn’t expected to see a lot of the field this season, but will now probably elevated to a more prominent role if Crabtree is indeed out for a long time. However, the returns from Achilles tears last season by the likes of Terrell Suggs and Da’Quan Bowers, both injured during the spring but back in time to take part during the NFL seasons makes the Niners hope Crabtree goes through the same kind of speedy rehabilitation process, preferably without antler spray.
Colin Kaepernick made Crabtree his favorite target while sorta neglecting Vernon Davis as the season progresses. Davis, who some think he is the best tight end in the NFL, will probably see more passes going his way as long as Crabtree (who caught 85 passes for 1105 yards) remains on the injury list.