Michael Crabtree’s resurrection this season has caught many people around the NFL by surprise, particularly given the way the wide receiver’s final two years with the 49ers went.
Derek Carr isn’t one of them.
The Raiders’ second-year quarterback developed an early rapport with Crabtree in training camp and the two haven’t slowed down since.
Carr traces the prospering relationship between the two men back to July when he invited all of Oakland’s wide receivers to join him in Bakersfield for a two-day workout. Crabtree readily accepted, even though he wasn’t in the country at the time.
“When I texted everybody, he was the first one that said, ‘I’ll be there. Just tell me where to be and I’ll be there,’” Carr said. “He made a point of being there. He loves to work and he didn’t care where he had to be, he didn’t care where he had to go. He was going to be there. I think it sent a message not only to the young receivers but to this whole place about what kind of guy he is.”
While first-round pick Amari Cooper has established himself as one of the most explosive young wide receivers in the league, it’s the 28-year-old Crabtree who leads Oakland in receptions and is tied for the team lead with three touchdown catches.
Crabtree’s impact in the Raiders’ locker room has been even more critical, a point that coach Jack Del Rio and Oakland’s players have emphasized whenever asked about him.
“I feel like that’s what I’m supposed to do,” Crabtree said. “The knowledge I’ve gained over the years, seven years in, I’ve done seen it all. NFC championships, postseason stats . but they don’t talk about that.”
They are the critics who wrote Crabtree off after he averaged a career-low 10.3 yards a catch, the same ones who scoffed when Crabtree hit the free agent market only to find a handful of teams interested in him.
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie was one of the few NFL executives intrigued by Crabtree and he signed the receiver to a low-risk $3.2 million, one-year contract. Oakland has been reaping the benefits ever since.
Crabtree has tied or led the Raiders in receptions in five of the team’s seven games this season. He’s on pace to finish with a career high in catches and match the 1,105 yards receiving he put up with the 49ers in 2012.
“I just do what I have to do,” Crabtree said. “I let all the talk … they can just keep talking. But when you turn that film on, you can see some guys getting after it. All I know is go do what you’re supposed to do and the film will show it.”
During Oakland’s 34-20 win over the New York Jets last week, Crabtree provided a signature moment when he scored on a 36-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.
Crabtree caught the ball in the open at the 19-yard line, ran through a pair of defenders at the 12 then muscled his way past Jets cornerback Marcus Williams at the 7 before reaching the end zone.
“We have a lot of weapons and we have a lot of hungry guys,” Crabtree said. “A lot of guys want the ball, a lot of guys want to get that extra yard, and it’s helping us. We’re feeding each other and trying to get the win.”
Del Rio has lauded Crabtree for his leadership, the willingness to block downfield for his teammates and for being a mentor to Cooper.
Cooper is seen as the Raiders’ future, though Crabtree’s performance this season has fueled talk that he should be a part of that future, too.
Crabtree won’t discuss his plans for 2016 and instead will likely wait until the offseason to decide whether or not to return to the Raiders.
Keeping Crabtree would seem a no-brainer from Oakland’s perspective. He and Cooper have been one of the most explosive tandems in the NFL so far and could finish as the first pair of Raiders wide receivers with 1,000-yard seasons since Tim Brown and Jerry Rice did it in 2001.
“We’re not dragging anything in the past, good or bad, forward,” Del Rio said. “When guys come here they join our family. We ask them to be great teammates. He’s been a great teammate. We asked them to bring us whatever leadership skills they have. He’s done a great job expressing that.”