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Lowell Cohn: Michael Crabtree can make huge difference

  • Michael Crabtree was Colin Kaepernick's favorite target in the 2012 season. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

He could change everything for the 49ers. Who is “he”?

Michael Crabtree, of course.

Crabtree will play today against the St. Louis Rams. Crabtree tore his Achilles' tendon in May and has been a noncombatant ever since, and you know what that did to the San Francisco offense. Strictly Dullsville. Almost dead.

Crabtree is a top-10 receiver in the NFL. Well, let's be prudent here. He was a top-10 receiver before his injury. It's unknown what he is right now, but that will be revealed in a few hours. Obviously, he and the 49ers think he's all the way back.

If Crabtree is all the way back, this is what we'll see. He runs perfect pass routes. His routes are beautiful, a Shakespeare sonnet on grass. He has great hands, strong hands. He fights for balls. Some receivers wait for the airborne ball to reach them (A.J. Jenkins). Crabtree attacks the ball. He is stronger than most cornerbacks and when he fights them for the ball, he wins the fight.

He is a master of YAC. If you don't know from YAC, you get a demerit. YAC goes back to the Jerry Rice days and it means “yards after the catch.” Crabtree is a YAC specialist even though he's not a speed burner. It comes down again to his attacking attitude. He grabs the ball and tears upfield with that sucker tucked in his arms daring defensive backs and linebackers to bring him down. Not so easy.

He would be the best wide receiver on almost every team in the NFL, the best even though some are faster.

With him back — if he is back — the equation changes for the 49ers. They are struggling to be a wild-card entry to the playoffs, the sixth and final wild-card entry, the entry that limps into the party. You know that. Crabtree makes the 49ers a Super Bowl contender. Forget limping. They could be sprinting.

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