July 20, 2010
Young, rich and almost famous, Mike Sims-Walker(notes) and Michael Crabtree(notes) are two mid-round receivers on the fast track to fantasy stardom. But whose numbers will be brightest? Brandon Funston and Brad Evans fight to the death (with butter knives) to determine what side you should take.
Funston opens: The desire for more money was a detriment to Michael Crabtree’s fantasy value last season. That same burning desire should prove to be beneficial to Mike Sims-Walker’s fantasy value this season. Whereas Crabtree held out for his first NFL contract, MSW is eyeing free agency after the 2010 season, with a go-to role with Jacksonville in hand to help pad his numbers nicely in advance of his next payday.
In a lot of ways, Sims-Walker and Crabtree are extremely comparable. They’re both No. 1 wide receiver options for run-oriented offenses. Crabtree has a talent advantage, but go back and look at MSW’s ’07 combine numbers – he’s no slouch athletically. And he also has three seasons in the NFL compared to Crabtree’s half season – Sims-Walker has put some nice polish on his game in terms of route running, catching the pigskin and understanding what the offense is trying to do.
Statistically speaking, MSW was better than Crabtree by nearly two fantasy points per game. He averaged more yards per catch than Crabtree and had five red zone touchdowns, which was five more than Crabtree.
The biggest reason I’ll go MSW over Crabtree on draft day, though, is that 49ers head coach Mike Singletary has a burning desire to run a smash-mouth, ground-oriented offense. But the team’s offensive line was so bad last season and QB Alex Smith was incapable of throwing effectively under duress, so the team resorted to a spread attack and finished with the third-fewest rushing attempts – Smith threw 67 percent of the time from the shotgun formation.
As it stands, Crabtree is the third option (behind Frank Gore(notes) and Vernon Davis(notes)) for an offense that will look to run more often and hope that a couple rookie offensive linemen and an increased emphasis on play action will allow Smith to complement the ground attack through the air. But Smith could easily regress without the shotgun safety net, which could lead to David Carr(notes) getting a shot behind center … which could also lead to a very inconsistent Crabtree.
Evans responds: Many expected Crabtree to struggle mightily after a foot-shooting holdout last year kept him sidelined through training camp, the entire preseason and the first five weeks of the regular season. But when the Texas Tech product finally signed on the dotted line, he paid a handsome dividend. He digested Jimmy Raye's playbook unbelievably fast and flashed the terrific all-around polish that made him a legend in Lubbock. Extrapolate what he achieved in 11 games (86-48-625-2) over a full season (125-70-909-3), and he would've been tabbed a useful WR3 in 12-team formats.
Yes, Alex Smith is an enormous question mark. The No.1 pick from 2005 has developed at an incredibly slow rate. Ralph Macchio reached puberty faster. However, the Noise is one of the few Smith apologists known to exist. Continuity at offensive coordinator, the presence of Frank Gore and a bolstered offensive line greatly enhance his chances to build off a productive second half. More importantly, Raye plans to incorporate more quick-paced pass plays to maximize his quarterback's potential. Confident, intelligent and determined, he and Crabtree should forge an unbreakable bond. Based on the emerging target's workload from a season ago (7.8 tgt/g) considerable growth should be anticipated. Assuming San Fran follows a more liberal script, a 1,100-yard, 6-8 TD season is inevitable. Don't be overly concerned about Vernon Davis. There's enough love to go around.
Sims-Walker may attract more red-zone looks, but his overall pedigree and role in a largely conservative offense pale in comparison. Crabtree's ceiling is stratospherically higher. Logging a full training camp, exhibition season and regular season means the second-year standout's projected mid-tiered WR2 campaign is only a stepping stone. This year could mark the first of multiple Pro Bowl appearances. His mammoth upside in an ascending offense is undoubtedly worth the earlier pick.
The Hyphenated One will be a sound option in any sized format, but owners who invest in the Niners' fast-rising star may very well strike it rich.
Images courtesy of AP/US Presswire