NEW ORLEANS - Michael Crabtree doesn't really give a hangnail if people thought he was just another diva wide receiver when he entered the NFL as a top 10 draft pick out of Texas Tech.
"I do not really read the media or the news and do all of that," he said. "That stuff will bother you, but I know who I am. The guys around me know who I am, so that is all that matters."
Crabtree, a first-time Pro Bowl pick who led the San Francisco 49ers with 85 receptions for 1,109 yards and nine touchdowns during the regular season, said he still feels like a 19 or 20-year-old physically but mentally and emotionally light years beyond where he was entering the NFL.
Crabtree was 21 in 2009 when the 49ers drafted the two-time Biletnikoff Award winner (2007, 2008), envisioning him as the top receiver in an offense heavily reliant on tight end Vernon Davis and running back Frank Gore in the passing game.
"For (Michael) Crabtree, he had to grow," said Davis, who as a top 10 pick came into the league overconfident and blossomed only after developing a close, father-son relationship with then-head coach Mike Singletary. "He had to find his niche, just like anyone else. He has done a great job for us in terms of making plays and being there when we need him. Michael Crabtree has turned it on. I'm happy for him and I'm happy for his future."
Similar talents who survived rocky moments early in their career, Davis and Randy Moss have been mentors to Crabtree.
"Crabtree has made some phenomenal plays this year," Moss said. "I think it starts out in practice really. I have not been here, I just came for camp. I do listen and I do read. The things he was doing in practice -- and I told him, 'The things you do in practice you have to be able to let them roll on over to the field.' Like I say, speaking for the whole offense he has got us out of some traps this year with his hands and run after the catch. He has had a hell of a year. Only thing you can do is just tip your hat off to him and hope it keeps going."
With the confidence borne of back-to-back NFC West titles and a roster loaded with young players, the 49ers' future looks rosy. A lot of that has to do with Crabtree's evolution.
"He's always been a great player. That's always been our world view of it," 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said. "What we see in practice and what we see in games, he's always been a great contributor to our football team. But talent, character and a great desire to be good; very high level of willingness to compete. He has contact courage and toughness."
If Crabtree can stand the heat of catching the bullets of passes from second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick, they are likely to form a big part of the core of the offense as the team enters a new stadium in 2014.
"He has not played that many games, but he still is growing. Just like me," Crabtree said of Kaepernick. "The whole team, we have a young team, we are still growing, maturing and trying to be the best we can be."
--Baltimore Ravens rookie kicker Justin Tucker has three game-winning kicks this season while San Francisco 49ers kicker David Akers has been shaky. But Akers compared the chance to kick the game-winner in the Super Bowl to being a closer in baseball.
"You're brought in at one time and hopefully are going to do good when you go on the field, because it's pretty obvious when you don't," said Akers. "So there's no gray area. Same thing with a relief pitcher; you've got to either finish the game off, or, for us, go out whether it's the first extra point of the game or the last-second field goal."
49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said he believes Akers does have something to work through, but decided to stick with the 38-year-old rather than turning to former Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff.